Cultural differences between the Chinese and Europeans are so enormous that you could write a complete book about them. Underneath we have picked a few which might be of daily interest when associating with the local people.
‘We don’t have’: ‘Meiyou' was the first Chinese that foreigners learnt in China during the first years after the country opened its borders for individual travellers at the beginning of the eighties. It means, “We don’t have”. You would often hear it, whatever you asked for: railway tickets, bus tickets, hotel beds and what not. Often these things were not unobtainable or sold out. We can, however, account for this puzzling and uncooperative behaviour. In the communist economy, the Chinese had no personal financial interest in accommodating their customers. Why make an effort? Within Chinese society there were all kinds of shortages, which could only be obtained through the use of connections. The Chinese themselves call this ‘guanxi’, ‘using the back door’. Services and commodities are often delivered by unofficial means. You then have the right to a service in return. ‘Meiyou’ always stayed ‘meiyou’. Chinese will not be the first to own up to being mistaken. This is seen as a loss of face, one of the worst things that can happen to you in social situations.
Haggling: Gradually 'meiyou' made its way out. Greed for money took its place. Nowadays, Chinese people want to supply you with everything and overcharge you for it. They have no qualms about heavily overcharging at all. We consider this to be cheating. They probably consider this to be quite normal and would like to get their share of our wealth. You have to keep up your guard where there are no fixed prices. You have to haggle at souvenir shops in China, Tibet as well as Nepal. If you eat at the street stalls, you always should agree the price up front.
Etiquette: Be aware of the deeply rooted Chinese idea that China and the Chinese are the standard and the rest of the world is deviant. Most Chinese are kind and curious with regard to foreigners. But at very best they consider us to be ‘different’, though usually ‘barbarians’. Neighbouring people learned from the Chinese, not the other way round. In the modern world, this mentality may not be very appropriate anymore, though is still largely present. According to western etiquette, a few local habits are downright distasteful. Chinese eating habits include loud slurping and belching. After a meal, the table and surrounding area is left in a chaotic and messy state with leftovers, chicken bones, fish bones and so on, everywhere. We also can’t bear the rattling and spitting that the Chinese dedicate themselves to so completely. There is loud honking, snorting and spewing. The best thing is just to be cheerful about it all.
Clothing: In China there are no strict clothing rules and it is possible to show up in shorts and tops. It is amusing to see how Chinese men walk around in a vest and rolled up trouser legs (till above the knee) when it’s warm. As a rule, people are somewhat more covered up than we are used to. It is respectful to adapt oneself to this, although the Chinese might not expect this from us ‘deviant’ westerners.
Amusement: The Chinese, who work six days per week, have little spare time in comparison to westerners. In the country people meet to talk to each other and watch television together in their spare time. In the cities, people watch television or take a walk in the streets or parks. You can do this as well, following Chinese custom. You could also visit the cinema. China has over 140,000 cinemas. Usually it is quite noisy there; people sympathize out loud and give a running commentary on the films, which are mostly in Chinese. Most films finish at 9 pm. In larger cities it is possible to visit a café, pub or discotheque. In Xi’an there are all kinds of little market stalls along the road until late at night. In Beijing you could visit a performance of the famous Peking Opera. In these operas singing, dancing, acrobatics and spoken texts are combined. The traditional subjects of the Peking Opera are derived from history and mythology. The central theme is usually the struggle between right and wrong. During the Cultural Revolution the Peking Opera was forbidden and after this the Opera has gone through various changes. The subjects are now either new or traditional. Acrobatics has been the most beloved form of amusement in China for over 22 centuries.
Be continuously aware that you are staying as a guest in a country where people have different manners. They are not different, you are.