It’s not that mainland Chinese are impolite it’s just that… okay, this one is hard to explain. For example, roughly shoving someone out of the way on public transport or poking somebody in the kidneys is entirely acceptable and the locals don’t bat an eyelid. This drives me crazy and I’m not the only one.
One of the most entertaining sights I’ve seen here in Urumqi was a friendly older American man we’ve bumped into on a few occasions: on this occasion he was in full flight at the doors on a bus, turning in small circles, waving his finger and shouting “don’t push me, don’t push me, no pushing, don’t you dare push me” at bemused Chinese, who were no doubt wondering why the crazy laowai wasn’t going to let them off at their stop. Nothing shouts ‘time for a holiday’ like the desire to take on all one billion Chinese over the shoving issue!
Spitting bones onto a restaurant table is par for the course, and in fact you’ll be thought weird if you DON’T make a little bone collection while eating. Chewing loudly is also fine, no bother.
BUT, on the other hand, there are a myriad of traps for the westerner to fall into…. touching food is one notable one, so is giving over a card with one hand, so is beckoning a person the western way. These are all considered no nos.
Pros: For those fascinated by different cultures, non-Tier 1 China is surely one of the least westernised places you’ll even come across! It’s a learning experience.
Cons: It can be really, really, really hard to work out what is appropriate and what is inappropriate.
4. Food. Don’t get me wrong, there’s amazing food here, but, man is it different from home! Case in point: we had a wonderful salad for dinner the other day, with fresh tomatoes, cucumber, snow peas, onion, mushrooms, corn and capsicum along with olice oil and a nice dressing. Yum! There were loads of leftovers so we brought them to work, got some naan from the bread-guy up the lane and made a type of Xinjiang salad wrap.
All the Chinese teachers and staff peered into the salad bowl with looks of deep mistrust: “what is THAT!?!”, “It’s salad.” This inadequate explanation was more often than not met with a pulled face. Eventually our co-ordinator did manage to summon up some enthusiasm:
“Oh, we have salads here too, you should try them because they are nice. Have you tried black fungus?”
“Um, I don’t think I have. Wait maybe I have, that black crap you put in some of the dishes? I think I have, actually.” (It’s just a normal mushroom and doesn’t taste bad at all, but looks quite odd)
“Well, we have that as salad, with vinegar on top. You should try that.”
So the fresh mixed salad is digusting but black-fungus-with-black-vinegar rocks. See my point?
They also love hearts, kidneys, brains, stomachs and… drumroll, Ian’s new favourite… blanched duck intestines!!!
Pros: I’m being a little unfair here, as I said, I LOVE (most of) the food…
Cons: … but they are kind of nose-to-tail eaters and I’m more conservative. I’m also highly partial to a good salad, and that’s highly suspect, weird foreigner stuff through local eyes.