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I leave for my PDO (pre-departure orientation) in TWO DAYS!! Aaaaaaand I’m not packed yet, lol. So, probably needless to say, I’m stressing out a little bit because I’ve been uncharacteristically disorganized and lazy the past few days (not to mention coming down with a nasty cough, yuck) and haven’t even typed my packing list or finished all my shopping. To try to reduce my stress and give myself one thing to focus on, I’ve decided to blog a little about some of the culture that I will experience in China in the coming weeks.

  • The Chinese have a concept called “saving face,” which basically means maintaining honor, respect, and dignity. It can be a little complicated because there are lots of different ways someone can “lose face.” But for example, if you buy something at a grocery store and the cashier gives you incorrect change, in America we might say, “Hey, you gave me too much/too little change.” In China, it’d be better to say, “I’m sorry, I must have miscounted my change. Would you please make sure I have the right amount?” That way, you put the blame on yourself and keep the cashier from losing face.
  • In China, except for in some really fancy restaurants, eating is usually really communal. Everyone gets a pair of chopsticks and a very small plate, if you get a plate at all. At restaurants, several dishes are ordered for the entire table and are often put on a lazy susan. The dishes don’t usually have serving utensils, either, because everyone is expected to just eat with their chopsticks. Yes, you do use the same end that you eat with to take your food.
  • It is considered polite for guests in a Chinese home to refuse the host’s first and even second offer of something to eat or drink, even if the guest really does want it. After the guest declines the first time, the host is expected to offer again.
  • Chinese people, especially at touristy sites, often like to take pictures with foreigners. People with dark skin, curly hair, blue/green eyes, or red or blonde hair are especially popular, since they look so different from China’s majority population.
  • Driving in China is very different from driving in the United States. They drive on the right side of the road in China, but that’s about the only similarity. For one thing, China is still less of a car culture and more of a bicycle and motor scooter culture. Also, pedestrians in China do not get the right of way. Drivers in China generally regard the lines and street signs as guidelines and suggestions rather than as law, which can make road travel rather frightening for the unknowing foreigner. Last year, I almost got hit by a bus, a car, and two bikes in one Beijing street crossing. Yeah, that was fun.

It’s not bad, just different. 🙂