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Our Man in Ningbo

Living in China exposes foreigners to many cultural differences, both good and bad. This is a brief survival guide from the worst that I’ve observed:

Habits

Spitting is the most disgusting habit, particularly since they often spit in any place they feel like, including restaurants and lifts! Reasons I’ve heard to explain this generally concern the dirty air together with the traditional belief that phlegm is bad to your health and so something to get rid of, which considering the traces of dirt in it may well be true. Pushing into queues is purely frustrating and I’ve never discovered the reason for it. There’s no alternative but to get in front before they do. Getting stared at, however, is not avoidable and, even if it is annoying, is just curiosity no hostility. Another habit with no solution is an insistence to talk very loudly, especially on the mobile. One reason explained that it is necessary to talk so loud since China is so noisy. In general these are just things to get used to, though the Beijing government has instituted a ‘queuing day’ on the 11th of every month to encourage people to queue. The slogan is “It’s civilized to queue, it’s glorious to be polite.”

Bargaining

The inflated prices that greet foreigners are avoidable: simply learn to bargain. It’s not foreigners exclusively that get this: late one night, having missed the bus to Ningbo, I bought a ticket from a tout outside the station. After walking away from his first few offers I got it down to 100 RMB. Waiting for the bus I met a Chinese man who asked how much I paid. I told him causing him to curse – “I paid 350. Another man on the bus paid 200.

Traffic

In China it’s necessary to check every conceivable direction when crossing the road. Just because there is a green light doesn’t mean that the traffic has stopped! There will always be cars, ebikes and, craziest of all, buses and taxis turning into the road you’re crossing with their foot flat on the accelerator.

Touts & Scams

Although you can often get great bargains from them, touts are generally a nuisance. That is no reason to be rude to them, however. If you don’t want anything just say, “bu yao, xie xie (shiye shiye)” (Don’t want, thanks). In addition, there are often scams involving friendly English-speaking Chinese ‘students’, asking you to go to a tea house or art exhibition – you will get ripped off if you go. Some people are just friendly though, so don’t just dismiss people but keep your senses about you. Furthermore there are often prostitutes on the same streets. As with touts show some respect and use the same phrase.

Phenomena we might condemn in China are the result of differences of situation. To get the most from visiting it’s good to put aside judgment, and make friends that can help in understanding the disparities.

Chris Berragan

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