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Cultural differences and pleasures in China

China is a country of contrasts and often very bewildering for expats.

It takes time to adjust to the customs and culture of the country, and the rapid changes that are taking place in both the economic and political sphere mean that the country is still in the process of development. Despite embracing Western industry and Western companies, China is still ruled by the Communist Party of China.

From its rapidly expanding industrial centres to its beautiful countryside, you'll think you've understood the country, and then you'll travel to a new part of the China and you'll have to come to grips with a new set of cultural traditions, possibly a new dialect or language, and a different climate. The country is vast, and this is something you'll also have to take into consideration when relocating here.


The easiest way to understand any new country is to try and socialise with the locals. If you go out for a meal, don’t suggest splitting the bill, as this will be seen as an insult, if you’re dinning with Chinese friends you could find that you’re expected to pick up the tab, as Westerners are considered wealthy. If you’re out shopping, be prepared to haggle — many stallholders will jack up prices on your arrival. Everyone is expected to haggle, and the given price is never accepted.

The political situation in China is complicated and it's a good idea not to mention the subject with your new Chinese friends. If you stick to niceties, work, the weather and other forms of more general conversation, you won't embarrass yourself or the people with whom you're talking.

The Chinese don't embrace in public unless you're a family member or very close friend. It's more usual to shake hands, and, kissing, as a form of greeting is not acceptable.  

Learn about the culture

If you learn about Chinese culture before re-locating, you'll enjoy your experience far more. Public holidays are a popular time for visiting shrines, monuments or just taking off to the countryside. If you understand in advance what you're going to see, then you'll be able to appreciate China's 5,000 years of culture.

Language is important

The sooner you learn Mandarin, the better. Even though you will find different dialects and languages across China, 70% of Chinese will have learned Mandarin at school. You’ll find social interaction much easier once you’ve learned the language and even though many Chinese do speak some English, it’s considered polite to try and speak their language. When you move to China you may find yourself referred to as an ‘lao waibin,’ a Mandarin term that means an ‘old foreigner,’ this is not an insult.

Major differences

You will have to accustom yourself to a completely different way of addressing people and a very different standard of rudeness once you've moved here. Spitting on the street is acceptable, so is queue jumping. When you cross the road, you take your life into your hands, as Chinese drivers frequently don't observe the niceties of stopping for pedestrians on zebra crossings, or a myriad of other road user conventions that are familiar in the West.  

People slurp at meals, and you'll just have to get used to this. You'll also be presented with some unusual menu choices in restaurants, try not to turn your nose up as the rooster's feet might taste delicious.

China is mainly a cash economy, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises that you carry plenty of money with you when leaving the major cities as you will not be able to find an ATM or, possibly, shops that accept credit or debit cards.

To make sure that you are fully protected in case of any health care emergency while you're in China, contact us today and let us help you.

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