Learning what to expect in China can help mitigate some of the stress until you get accustomed to the speed of daily life.
Keep these 10 things in mind to battle culture shock in China and to know what to expect once you hit the ground. Also, check out some jet lag remedies for a quick recovery from the long flight over.
Chinese Food is Not What You Expect
Most of the cuisine that we refer to as 'Chinese food' originated in San Francisco. Those ubiquitous items such as General Tso's Chicken that generally taste the same no matter where they are eaten rarely show up on real Chinese menus. Only a few familiar favorites were adopted from authentic Chinese dishes.
Staring and Pointing
All foreign visitors to China, particularly blond or fair-skinned people, receive plenty of attention when in public. People will openly stare at you, expressionless, and sometimes even point you out to friends and family by jabbing a finger in your direction.
Pointing is often accompanied with the word laowai which means 'old outsider'. You will hear the term often, despite the government's best efforts to curb its usage.
Don't be offended; people are generally just curious. The excessive attention, even when eating in restaurants, can get tiring; do your best to keep your cool.
Remember the Language Difference
Don't expect everyone whom you encounter to speak English well, why would they? Saying the same thing again only louder makes you look like a newbie traveler and won't help them to understand any better. The same goes for showing others a map or written words; can you read Chinese?
While many people do speak English, particularly in cities, you'll deal with the language difference frequently when interacting with taxi drivers. Drivers will rarely turn down a fare, whether they understand where you are going or not, so ensure that the driver knows your destination before you get inside.
Transportation hubs will often have at least one ticket window for foreigners staffed by someone who speaks English. See more about taking taxis in China.
You can ensure that you understand the correct price for something before agreeing to pay by either carrying a small calculator or by learning the local hand gestures for counting in Chinese.
Spitting and Mucus Clearing
Spitting in public and clearing the deepest sinus recesses of the head -- with sound effects -- are common throughout China -- even on public transportation and sometimes indoors! Choking pollution in big cities and excessive smoking are good reasons to send a lot of mucus flying.
Personal Space is a Luxury
Don't be offended if someone stands just a little too close when speaking to you, or people are calmly pressed against you in crowded public transportation. With such an enormous population, the Chinese do not share the same concept of personal buffer space that Westerners monitor.
You will rarely receive an 'excuse me' when someone bumps into you or squeezes past while knocking you out of the way.
Fight for Your Position
Orderly queues, especially of more than a few people, are generally disregarded in China. As a foreigner, people will blatantly step in front of you, cut line, or push past you to the counter as if you aren't even there.
Again, remember that overpopulation plays a big part in this behavior and do your best to keep cool while holding your place in line. Don't be afraid to stick elbows out or to shuffle around defensively to keep people from stepping in front of you.
Learn to Say No
Along with receiving lots of attention, you will be approached frequently by touts, drivers, and people selling things on the street.
Many vendors won't take your first or second 'no' for an answer. The best way to politely turn down an offer is to say bu yao (pronounced: boo yow) which means 'I don't need/want it'.
Smile Like a Celebrity
Don't be shocked if Chinese groups or families ask to pose for a photo with you, particularly in public places such as parks and Tiananmen Square. You may get so many offers that you'll start to feel like a celebrity! Some people may even snap photos without asking you first.
The photo requests are harmless and the group will often reciprocate by allowing you to take your own fun photos with them; enjoy the chance for some interaction.
Don't Support Begging
You will encounter poverty throughout China; beggars often loiter around ATMs and transportation hubs to poach tourists. Giving to them is not the solution and you may become inundated by a crowd of persistent beggars if someone sees you giving money.
Watch Out for Road Rage
Crossing the road in busy cities can be a daunting affair. Drivers rarely observe a pedestrian's right of way, even if you have a working walk signal!
Be cautious when crossing roads; don't assume that drivers will stop just because they have a red light. You're best off crossing safely as a group with others.