This is the post where i discuss the differences i have noticed between Chinese culture and American culture.
Driving. Maybe it’s politically incorrect, but Chinese drivers are scary. It is best to just close your eyes or look somewhere else when in a taxi. No one pays much attention to the painted lines; weaving in and out, or simply straddling a line, is common. There is lots of honking, which Lance would hate.
Biking. There are lots of bikes here. And every major road has a dedicated bike lane for each direction. And this bike lane is a real lane – no pathetic two-foot wide shoulders in this country. A full-fledged lane that is just for bikes. I’m sure the plethora of bikes is due in part to being in a big city, but we don’t have this much respect for bikers in America.
Waiting in Line. If you wait in line in China, you will never get to the front of the line. Everything seems to be a mob scene, and that applies to ordering food or driving or trying to see a tourist attraction. I can’t say that it’s rude, either, exactly. It just seems to be an accepted part of the culture that everyone will try to elbow their way to the front. This conflicts with a common perception of Chinese people as polite & passive. For example, i was waiting to have my picture taken underneath the “Lover’s Tree” in the garden of the Forbidden City. It was fine with me to wait behind the people who were there before me, but i could not manage to insert myself in front of the people who came after me. I was waiting patiently, and obviously, for my turn. But i was not aggressive enough. I did eventually get my picture taken, but only because there was a lull in the crowd and no line for a couple of minutes.
Restaurants. Waiters will usually only bring one menu to a table, and one person orders for the whole table. You often would not get a say, since after all you can’t see the menu. The menus are ridiculously long compared to a typical American restaurant. The food is generally shared community-style. Burping loudly appears to be OK, whether at dinner or throughout the day. Everyone slurps their noodles, which looks and sounds like bad manners to me, but in China it is accepted. Also Chinese people tend to eat hunched over, with their mouths near the plate or bowl, while Americans are taught to sit up straight and bring food to your mouth instead of the reverse.
Tipping. There is essentially no tipping in restaurants. Very occassionally at nice restaurants, a 10% tip will be added to the bill, but it is not voluntary, and you never add additional tip. You do not tip hotel staff, either, i am told. I will be expected to tip my tour guides, however.
Religion. More than half of Chinese people are agnostic or atheist. The next largest religions are Buddhism and Taoism. 3-4% of the population follows Christianity.
Children. For the past 30 years, a policy has been in place that families may only have one child. If you are an only child yourself, and you marry an only child, you are permitted to have two children, but the second child requires 40+ forms to be filled out before it is approved. I dared to ask what happens if you accidentally get pregnant a second time. Your choices are: terminate the pregnancy (in some areas this is the only allowed option), or, pay a huge fine, and even then your child still may not have basic rights like public education, unless you pay even more in fines. I asked if there was a system of adoption in place, in case a couple did not want to have an abortion. The answer is no. I asked about the existence of a foster care system, in the cases where parents abuse their children or have hard drugs in the home. My dinner companions did not seem to think these problems really existed in China, and said that the government would not interfere in how a parent disciplined a child.
Politics. The Chinese government leaders are appointed by the departing leadership. No elections.
Hosting. The people in China have a reputation for being very good hosts, and i have found it to be true. My every need has been seen to. I have had escorts for every meal, and volunteers to show me around the city sites and take me shopping. I have not been allowed to buy any of my meals. I have been given gifts to make sure i feel welcome. I know how much work it is to be a good host, as i was a host to two of these same coworkers just 6 months ago. I did not do nearly as good a job as they have done. I am very lucky to be working with such good people.
Piracy. Piracy of software or goods is very common. The police do not do much to try to stop this, so it is rampant. For example, tonight i’m being taken shopping on Silk Street, where i’m told you can buy designer purses for about $50. They are not the “real thing”, but you would be hard-pressed to tell the difference.
You Don’t Like That, Do You? Yes. This sentence construction is very confusing to Chinese people. The correct answer is “No, i don’t.” But, since it is an agreement, the Chinese impulse is to say Yes. This one has caused quite a few misunderstandings this week.