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Cultural Tips for Travelers in China

CrossContinental.org Has Recently Released Some Informative Tools to Help International Travelers Cope with Culture Shock in China.

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Nearly every traveler experiences Culture shock to some degree when travelling abroad, especially when their voyages take them to locals with very different cultures from their own. Learning to adapt to these sudden cultural changes is essential if one wishes to get the most out of their international experience. China has become one of the most popular long haul tourist destinations in the world and many international volunteers and interns have chosen China to be their host country. For this reason, Cross-Continental Solutions has recently released a new eBook with some tips to help travelers better adapt to the culture of China.

Norms are ever changing in China, but acquiring a basic level of cultural competence prior to arrival will benefit travelers greatly. Some of the most important cultural tips for travelers to China are:

·         Meeting and Greeting

When one is introduced, the common greeting in China is a handshake with “ni hao”, which means hello.  The traditional Chinese greeting is a bow with one’s hands held palm to fist, but modern Chinese have adopted the handshake custom and they are now widely used in China. More personal greetings such as hugging, on the other hand are not acceptable, especially across genders.

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·         Conversational Topics and Privacy

Don’t be shocked if topics of conversation feel quite personal. Questions regarding financial earnings, age, and marital status which might seem taboo in western nations are common place in China. These questions are not meant to be rude, so try not to be offended. For the traveler’s part, try to avoid topics of conversation that cast China in a negative light, especially the government. Chinese in general become quite defensive if they feel their nation, and by proxy their government (which many Chinese equate to be one in the same), is being criticized. Thus, expressing such negative opinions will garner a traveler few friends in China.

·         Restaurant Dining

If one is invited out for a meal at a restaurant, it is important to note that the host will typically order all dishes to be shared by the table and pay for the entire meal. Restaurant bills are not usually shared in China, although “going Dutch” has become more common among young people.

Chinese will often offer to pay the bill for their friends, although such gestures may not be entirely sincere, but rather a symbolic offer to be polite.

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·         Eating and Drinking

To the average Westerner, it might seem like there are no rules governing table manners in China. Loud soup slurping, talking with food in one’s mouth, belching at the top of one’s lungs, and spitting out food are all fair game. However, there are some rules governing dining etiquette in China, and a wise traveler should read up on the local customs before accepting a dinner invitation.

Most importantly, one should wait for their host to tell them where to sit, especially in formal settings. Age, gender, and social status all factor into seating arrangements, so it is up to the host to make such decisions.

It should also be expected that a traveler will be offered copious amounts of alcohol over the course of a meal, nor is it considered impolite to pressure one’s guest to drink to excess. By Chinese standards, the more alcohol one’s guests drink, the better.

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·         Acceptable to Stare

Chinese people have a habit of staring at foreigners, not because they are rude, but rather because they are inquisitive. Staring in China is perfectly normal and foreigners should not be offended if they catch someone studying them intently.

·         The Concept of Personal Space

In China, locals have a very limited concept of personal space, especially amongst people of the same gender. For instance, some older public toilets in China have low partitions so that neighbors might converse with one another, even when doing their “business”. However, while Chinese tend to keep very little personal space between them, physical contact, such arm-touching and backslapping, is not typically acceptable unless it’s between close same gender friends.

·         Subtle Communication Style

Finally, it is important for travelers to note that Chinese communicate in a very indirect way, so it is sometimes difficult to understand them. While westerners are known for talking directly and getting right to the point of the conversation, Chinese are more likely to talk sideways, rarely saying exactly what they feel, so as to allow the other party to “save face” a concept of paramount importance during any social interaction. Thus, when a Chinese says “yes” it might mean that they agree with you, or it might mean that they merely hear your position but disagree. One must carefully consider the subtle non-verbal and contextual cues in the interaction is order to tell the difference.

To save face, one should try to avoid confrontation or direct rejection. Try to give a negative answer in an indirect but gentle way. When criticism is necessary, try to do it in private.

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Cultural understanding is essential if travelers wish to assimilate themselves into their surroundings.

To get the most out of any volunteer or intern abroad experience, international travelers need to be open-minded, positive, non-judgmental, and adaptable.

For more informative advice and resources, sign up for free E-books at www.CrossContinental.org.