What not to do as an expat in China

What not to do as an expat in China

What not to do as an expat in China

Expats deciding on China as the perfect location are facing a culture which goes back four thousand years.

The two major problems for expats arriving in an unfamiliar land are culture and the local language, with China’s versions of both perhaps the trickiest in the entire world. Social difficulties and language clangers are unavoidable, and cracking the code takes a good while. Mistakes are there to be made, then learned about, and the learning process in this amazing land can defeat all but the most dedicated Sinophobe.

Clangers in the workplace can be devastating anywhere on the planet, but in China they’re especially embarrassing. Number one on the don’t do list is attempting to discuss Chinese politics with your co-workers. You’ll be met with blank stares at first, followed by total silence, by which time you’ve realised the Chinese Communist Party is not up for discussion anywhere in this vast country. Social mistakes might not be as embarrassing as their counterparts in the workplace and they may not seem important to the average expat Westerner.

Ritual is very important in China, even when you’re having a meal in mixed=race company. When it comes to paying the bill, it all depends on who you’re with and where you’re dining. Generally, one of the group pays for everyone, with the next time being another person’s turn to flash the cash. One unfortunate tried to split the bill with his boss – bad mistake as the boss had invited him! Dining etiquette is as important in present day China as it was 150 years ago in the West.

Using chopsticks are a danger for the unwary as, if they’re not held correctly for the meal’s ingredients, raised eyebrows will result. Even the position of a drinking glass whilst saying ‘cheers’ is specified by years of tradition, with expats expected to hold their glasses lower as it shows respect. Obviously, not understanding a reply from a Chinese person as you’ve only just started learning the language can put you in an awkward position, but getting used to this is essential as Standard Chinese is pure hell to master for the average expat.

Being open and discussing sex with your new-found friends may be fine in New York, but it’s a distinct no-no in Beijing or any other Chinese expat hub. Your new friendships are too important to risk by violating this cultural rule. Basically, cultural adaptation needs a pragmatic approach as well as a deal of respect, especially when the culture’s roots are so very far back in history that the only approach is to change your own ways if necessary, simply because the majority of Chinese won’t ever change theirs!

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