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10 Tips for Newcomers to China

Popularity 17Viewed 11861 times 2015-6-2 22:13 |Personal category:Funny stories|System category:Life| China, visitors, newcomers, living in china, introductions

I have a few friends who are planning to visit China or study here within the next year. Each of them has asked me for advice, tips, suggestions, etc. It's hard to capture in words exactly what it's like to live in many ways, it seems like a different world than the United States. However, I came up with 10 tips that I think accurately summarize my experiences in China so far.


1. It’s okay to look lost.

I don’t know how it is other countries, but in America we have this mindset that to show weakness is a bad thing. Don’t ask for help—be independent! [After all, that’s what America is all about, right? INDEPENDENCE!!]
The truth is that there’s going to come a time in China when you need help, and all the independence in the world can’t make up for what you lack in Chinese speaking skills. The great thing about China is that if you look lost, I can almost guarantee that within 3 minutes you will have a whole crowd of well-meaning Chinese people trying to help you.

2. It probably has red beans inside.

This rule applies to almost any bread, cake, cookie, soup, or drink that you encounter in China. If you like red beans, feel free to risk it. If not…hopefully you learn to like them very quickly.

3.  Carry a package of tissues and hand sanitizer with you at all times.

You can ignore this suggestion, but if you ever plan on using a public restroom, these things are a necessity. Trust me. 

4. There are a few handy phrases you’ll want to learn in Chinese: the name of your country, “sorry”, “it’s okay”, and “where is….?”

About 90% of the time, the first question a Chinese person asks you will be “Which country are you from?” If you can’t say anything else, at least learn the name of your country. It will put a very satisfied smile on the asker’s face when you respond. Other phrases that I found very useful when I first came were “sorry”, “it’s okay,” and “where is….?” [The last one comes in really handy. Whenever I’d be trying to get somewhere, I would just walk up to a random person on the street, point at an address on my phone, and say “Where is….?”]

4a. And don’t forget about the phrase “听不懂” <ting bu dong>. If you don’t know what’s going on, you can just repeat this over and over. People will stop jabbering at you in Chinese.

5. You may want to close your eyes the first time you ride in a taxi.

Driving can be a little wild here. Eventually, you start to get used to it…but the first few times may give you a heart attack. Just take my advice and close your eyes.

6. Hopefully you don’t mind sharing food.

One of the biggest surprises for me was the “family style” meal in China. Rather than ordering your own plate of food at a restaurant, generally your table will be loaded with dishes that everyone shares. If you’re that person who always got mad at others for “double dipping”, you’d better get over that fast. 

7. Get ready to get pushed around.

It’s no secret that China has a lot of people. Whenever you’re in a public place, especially if it’s during a holiday (which, by the way, happens frequently...I swear we have a holiday here every other week), know that it will be crowded. You might get shoved around a little (or a lot). Oh, and even if you’ve gotten a spot in line, don’t be surprised if people cut in front of you or completely ignore the idea of a line altogether. 

8. Don’t take it personally.

Lots of Westerners [me included] are shocked when they get an elbow in their face without an apology or see toddlers pointing at them and yelling “外国人!” <”foreigner!”>. It can also be very uncomfortable when a Chinese person you hardly know starts asking you personal questions, such as how much money you make or if you’re married [not to mention the very direct comments about your appearance]. The Chinese people are not trying to be rude. Apparently these things are acceptable in their culture. So don’t take it personally. Just smile, take it in stride, and make a note of it in your “Funny things that happened to me in China” journal.


9. Don't be afraid to smile and make a new friend.

Although some of their actions may surprise you or even seem offensive, Chinese people as a whole are actually very friendly. Every time I smile at someone, I am greeted in return by a delighted grin. Many of the people I meet love an opportunity to practice speaking English with me, and they are especially excited when I attempt (futilely) to speak with them in their own language. After only a brief interaction, they may ask for your phone number or your QQ or WeChat ID. I would probably feel uncomfortable if someone in America did that, but here it’s just another one of those Chinese things. Don’t feel obligated to give out your information, but I’ve found it’s sometimes handy to have a few Chinese friends on WeChat.

10. Go with the flow!

I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned since coming to China is to “just go with it.” Unexpected things happen all the time. I’ve had an older couple sit down at my table in a restaurant even though I’m surrounded by empty tables, little girls snuggle up next to me while I’m outside reading, and more wild adventures than you could imagine when it comes to travelling in China. You might end up in a tuk-tuk weaving in and out of traffic as you cross your fingers and silently pray that you’ll make it to the train station on time. After that, you may find yourself piling into a “private taxi” (aka ghetto 8-passenger van) at 1 AM because the train station is closed. Or you might find yourself invited to dinner with a new friend you’ve literally only met 10 minutes ago on the subway. Whatever happens, be open to these wild new experiences. After all, there really are things that only ever happen in China…and those are the ones that make the best stories.


--Kelli 凯丽

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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Recent comments

  • 5 Ways I've Become a Little More Chinese 2018-3-24 11:56

    Try drinking warm water, instead of hot water. Very hot beverage is bad for throat.

  • The City that Started it All 2017-2-28 14:21

    Chengdu is an excellent place. People are moving at a slower pace than Beijing, Shanghai or Tianjin.
    It is also known the Foggy City. The name London was accoladed with.

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