I wanted to share an article that was published and sent through Chinese social media. I choose this article because I wish someone would have told me these things before I came to China…… enjoy!
Living in a Communist country with drastically different social and moral conventions proved a bumpy ride for Richard Fowler. Here’s his advice based on lessons learnt …
1. The televisions are not on the blink
After a long day at work in Shanghai, where I ran a window decor buying office, I would look forward to unwinding with a relaxing evening in front of the telly. Our TV had a very irritating habit, however, of intermittently shutting off, for just two or three minutes at a time, say once every three or four days. I noticed the same thing happened to the TV at my gym. Over a few pints with my friend Dominic, I complained about the irritating shortcomings of Chinese TVs. Dom chuckled and said:
“What were you watching in the gym when the TV suddenly lost reception?”
“A CNN report on speculation that Norway might give the Nobel prize to a Chinese human rights activist,” I replied.
“And when the TV went off at your house two nights ago?”
“A BBC World interview with the…” The penny finally dropped. “Oh, I get it!”
If someone had just told me about the intrusive censorship before I went to China then I wouldn’t have wasted so much time worrying about defective televisions.
2. Don’t drive
Most expat postings, particularly in China, come complete with a car and driver. Some expat employees even have to sign a contract stating that they will never drive themselves. On the roads here, it’s every man for himself and whatever you do, you should never show consideration and never give way to any other driver. It shows weakness. Any outsider wanting to drive in such an atmosphere of anarchy would surely need his head examined. I am that man. I went out on the roads no more than seven or eight times. These proved to be terrifying experiences. After just a week or so, I hung my keys up for the duration and threw my newly acquired license away.
3. Be prepared to ditch your favorite clichés
One of my favorite retorts on being told that I couldn’t or shouldn’t do something was to say “Why not? It’s a free country!” A few months into my China posting I was persuaded to abandon this line and find a new, more appropriate retort. Unfortunately, “I acknowledge the need for a socially harmonious society and accordingly, I shall therefore temper my instinct to selfishly pursue my own interests,” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
4. In winter, always go well wrapped up to restaurants and cafes
“Due to government decree, there is no central heating in public buildings south of the Yangtze river”
I wish someone had told me that, due to government decree, there is no central heating in public buildings south of the Yangtze river. This policy was intended to bring about huge savings in energy costs, though of course the realities of this diktat are ridiculous. For example, just a few miles to the north of Shanghai, the public buildings are toasty warm throughout the winter. However, in Shanghai itself, people are expected to happily shiver through freezing winter temperatures.
5. Familiarity might breed contempt
We tend to think that the repressed British are hardly a demonstrative bunch. Well compared with the Chinese we are almost French. As a foreigner in China, it is best to keep your behavior as formal as possible, at least until you know someone really well.
I remember on arriving in Shanghai my wife, recognizing a close colleague of mine, greeted him with a peck on the cheek. He was dumbfounded and just didn’t know where to look. Remember, an overly friendly greeting might make your Chinese friends and colleagues feel uncomfortable and could even cause offence.
6. It’s not PC in the PRC
You’ll need to put your Western liberal sensibilities to one side and “man up”. China makes the racist, sexist 1970s look like afternoon tea with Polly Toynbee. For example, a colleague once showed what appeared to be genuine sympathy for the poverty suffered in many African countries. “It’s not their fault,” she exclaimed. “They’re just not as clever as us.”
7. The Chinese don’t do modesty
To the Chinese, humility is a puzzling, alien concept. I used to enjoy the two-mile walk from my house in Honqiao to my office in Gubei. To my surprise I was confronted about this apparently harmless practice by several of my colleagues who chided me: “If you walk, people will think you are poor. They will think that you cannot afford a car.”
8. Manners maketh man
The overwhelming majority of Chinese people don’t do manners. I am unsure as to the reason behind this. Someone once told me that when the Communists came to power, Mao labelled manners as bourgeois and consequently those with good sense dropped their manners overnight for fear of being perceived as a class enemy. Whatever the real reason, the sheer rudeness on display can take the breath away. Be prepared for spitting, queue-jumping and being barged out of the way.
9. Travel narrows the mind
You may arrive in China with noble thoughts about the family of man, with your liberal certainties intact and a Guardian folded under your left arm.
Unfortunately, experience soon corrects you. After a few months subsumed in a society where nobody says please or thank you, people routinely slam you out of the way in their hurry to get out of the lift, drivers beep furiously and try to run you down if you foolishly think the zebra crossing gives you some sort of right of way, where the loud rasping clearing of the throat is inevitably followed by the well directed spit… well, you get the picture.
Before you know it, you are a committed cultural imperialist, clinging to the humane comfort blanket that is the expat bubble. You will gather in all the Western bars, and compete with others as to who has suffered the worst ‘China moment’ – the one that causes the usually calm and collected expat to ‘lose it’.
Some people hate the China experience and long for the day when they can get away. Others are seduced and want to stay forever. But one thing is certain: every expat experiences a China moment.
Until next time….