Culture Shock | 9 Things to Know Before Traveling to China

China’s culture is one of the richest and most unique in the world. The language is the most complicated, their martial arts are the oldest and the medicinal culture, poetry and songs are considered some of the most intricate and beautiful of all time. In regards to tourism, China probably has the greatest variety of attractions anywhere in the world. For a trip that is eye-opening, rich in history and exotic all at once, China is the way to go, but before you book your flight, make sure you note the biggest cultural differences to prepare yourself for the vacation.

1. Your email won’t work.


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China’s “Great Firewall,” blocks sites like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram and just about all of Google’s sites. There are ways around it, but you have to purchase a VPN, which can be a tricky ordeal, especially if you don’t speak Mandarin or the local tongue.

2. You will eat the weirdest shit.


Photo: Paul Mannix

Duck heads, grilled scorpion and deep fried spiders is treated like fresh fish on the San Francisco Wharf, and at some point during your trip, you’re going to have to try it (or, at least, acknowledge that it’s been offered to you). Also, if you’re walking the street, don’t think it’s weird if you see a local gnawing on a fully intact small bird – bones and all. Do not try this at home.

3. Don’t leave your chopsticks on your rice.


Photo: Nicole Jolene

This is considered a morbid ritual associated with funerals. In Chinese tradition, people leave chopsticks on the tombstones of their loved ones so they can be fed in the afterlife. Balancing them on your bowl of noodles is considered rude and unlucky.

4. They are highly superstitious.


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The number 4 is considered the most unlucky number you can find. That’s because the word of 4 is the same word as death in Mandarin. That being said, you’ll notice floor numbers skip from 3 to 5, phone numbers and license plates generally don’t have the number 4 in them, and, if you’re there for business, you’ll never meet with a client at 4pm. This probably won’t apply to your vacation, but if you’re born April 4 and traveling to China, keep it to yourself, lest you be treated like some sort of antichrist or unwanted jinx.

5. Don’t take your compliments.


If someone pays you a compliment, you have to say “no” like 5 times before accepting it, or you’re considered a cocky jerk. This same concept applies when it comes to receiving a gift. It’s expected that you refuse it a few times before accepting, in a show of humility and respect for the gifter.

 6. Burping, spitting and staring are encouraged.


In China,  burping is a sign of contentment after eating. It’s basically the same thing as complimenting the chef, only it’s loud and usually smelly. Staring, too, is considered a compliment, as it means you’re genuinely interested in that person’s looks or activity. Though in the last year China has been trying to dissuade people from spitting on the street, it’s still sadly common and oftentimes a show of masculinity.

7. Cars have the right of way.


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This is self-explanatory, but don’t even think about j walking, especially in busy cities.

8. Cash is king.


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Cash is the preferred method of payment, especially in boutique shops and small towns. Though most hotels and upscale restaurants will accept Visa and MasterCard, it’s considered pretty uncommon. It’s definitely easier to just carry the cash then try to find an ATM when you’re getting hangry and can’t find a place that accepts your credit card.

9. Don’t drink the water.


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While you’re at it, don’t breathe the air either. It makes L.A. smog look like an oxygen bar.