Traveling Around China: Cultural Differences

Posted 16th Oct 2020
Traveling Around China: Cultural Differences

China has now become a popular tourist destination owing to its magnificent natural landscape and its fascinating culture and traditions. Many foreigners see China as an exotic place in that everything is so different compared with their own cultures. Therefore, you have to keep in mind that cultural differences are vast when traveling around China. Here's the explanation of five typical cultural differences you can observe in China for you to have a clearer idea of what to expect.

1. Drinking Hot Water

The first cultural difference you will notice while traveling around China is their obsession with hot water. Hot water plays a tremendous role in Chinese people's daily lives. They believe that hot water is what they need to protect themselves from minor illnesses.

Most of your Chinese friends would suggest you drink hot water in case you've caught a cold. It is the perfect reflection of what "miracles" hot water is able to create in Chinese people's understanding. In addition, one of the most practical pieces of advice that old people in China would give to the young generation in order to show their care for them is to ask them to drink hot water on a daily basis.

Therefore, if you would like to have some cold water when dining at a Chinese restaurant, it would be better to ask for it using "冰水 (bīngshuǐ) rather then 冷水 (lěngshuǐ). Otherwise, you might get lukewarm water instead. Note: 冰水 (bīngshuǐ) literally means "ice water", while 冷水 (lěngshuǐ) is the proper word for "cold water". 

The reason behind that is just Chinese people have a different understanding of something being cold.

2. Bargaining

Leading a thrifty life has always been considered a virtue according to the traditional Chinese culture. Even if Chinese people's living standard is constantly improving, they still try to save money whenever it is possible.

Consequently, bargaining is an inalienable part of Chinese people's daily lives. You will see people bargaining on most fruit and vegetable markets. They believe that certain external factors such as the accuracy of the scales (even if they are electronic) may affect the final price.

A funny thing which you can observe in China is that some people even bargain when shopping in grocery stores if they more or less know the shopkeeper. More interestingly, sometimes the shopkeeper would offer some kind of product at a lower price spontaneously if he or she is in a good relationship with the customer. If you would like to experience the authentic Chinese lifestyle for yourself, why not try bargaining when shopping on a market?

3. Treating Someone to a Meal 

As has been mentioned above, Chinese people have a tendency to cut back on their daily expenses. But on the other hand, people in China are eager to show their generosity to their friends or people who they think are important to them. They especially show it when they have received just a little help from them. One of the most common ways to "achieve the effect" is to offer them free lunch or dinner.

If your Chinese friend wants to treat you to a meal, he or she will definitely ask you to order whatever you want irrespective of how much it would cost in order to show their hospitality.  

4. Asking Personal Questions

While traveling around China, you can easily notice this cultural difference. Some Chinese people are really curious about western culture. They would love to make friends with people from different cultural backgrounds.

However, quite a few foreigners think people in China seem to be very nosy. The main cause is that they tend to ask questions which are considered to be quite personal in Europe. In fact, what they really want is just to know more about what life is like in western countries.

Therefore, get yourself ready for some unexpected questions concerning your age or marital status when travelling around China. It's all up to you to decide whether or not to answer their questions.

5. Wine Culture   

Chinese people drink beer or white wine (something similar to vodka) on different occasions including business negotiations and birthday parties.

Young people in China are now well aware of how harmful it is to drink alcohol on a regular basis. But middle-aged Chinese businessmen can't live without alcoholic drinks. What is so important about drinking alcohol when it comes to doing business with Chinese people is that it works as the prelude to a successful business deal. Moreover, it is also what you are expected to do in China when you are trying to show respect to your superiors.

Author's Notes:

That’s Mandarin is one of the oldest private Chinese schools in China. It was founded in Beijing in 2005 and has been growing ever since, with campuses in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. That’s Mandarin has been delivering excellence in Chinese teaching for over 15 years to more than 30,000 students of different nationalities. “NihaoCafe” is an online learning platform created by That’s Mandarin to enhance students’ Mandarin learning experience. The school has plans to open more campuses in more cities soon, to share the knowledge and enthusiasm for Mandarin to more students in China and around the world. 

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