Culture shock can send people running for the next plane home, but before you start racing backwards there are always ways to deal with it.
A part of travelling is being brought out of your comfort zone, and dealing with culture shock is one of the challenges most people face when they visit a country that differs greatly to the habits they have grown accustomed to. Polar opposites can often be found between government systems, etiquettes, educational systems, religions, fashion trends, and cuisines but however different these elements are to your own idea of normality it’s important not to feel overfaced.
I find it helpful to follow the advice that someone once gave me which is to ‘go with an open-mind and expect the worse’. But if ‘expecting the worse’ isn’t the kind of cynical attitude you want to adopt (understandably) then I’ve put together a few of China’s cultural differences to prepare you for – because knowing they exist is the first step to understanding….
Toilets without doors
These photos are taken from Flickr because I was too traumatised most of the time to even think about getting my camera out when I went to the ‘ladies’ room. But now I wish I had for the comic value because I experienced toilets even worse than these…. If you can imagine a communal sewer, then you probably have the right image in mind. Now I should apologise for putting that imagery in your head -so, I’m sorry.
Squatting toilets can be difficult to adjust to, but discovering public toilets without doors are the norm in China made me cry in disbelief. In larger cities you’ll often get the luxury of a door and if you’re really, really lucky you might find a Western toilet, but in small cities you’ll be lucky if you even have walls! If you’re faced with these types of open toilets then I suggest using an umbrella or newspaper to hide your dignity!
Babies bums are just part of China’s landscape when split pants exist in the world.
Basically these are crotchless pants. Yep, you read correctly, babies and toddlers in China don’t wear nappies so they’re able to do their ‘business’ wherever and whenever (!). This means you can look forward to seeing a full moon almost every day when you’re walking around simply trying to mind your own business, enjoying the sights and sounds. Quite frankly, I miss my daily dose of bum cheeks now that I’m no longer in China.
‘Can I have your autograph?’
Because I’m Eurasian I had quite an easy ride, but I imagine people with blue eyes and blond hair get this one a lot. However, there are definitely worse things to put up with than people taking photos of you and asking for your autograph so I suggest you happily play along with the attention even if it makes you feel a little uncomfortable. I should stipulate here that I was living in a quite a small city so if you’re in somewhere larger it’s likely that you won’t become too much of a tourist attraction to the locals.
I was introduced to the nation’s habit of spitting on my second day in China. I took a 4-hour bus ride from Shanghai to Wuhu and sat at the front of the bus wide-eyed and full of optimism. However, that optimism quickly descended into disgust after only ten minutes into my journey when I realised the bin residing next to my seat was being used as a spit bucket.
Much to my chagrin, the whole journey became a musical chorus of spitting noises and hocking sounds. If that wasn’t bad enough, one woman brought her baby up to the bin and used it as a toilet. Charming!
With 1.3 billion people in China, it probably won’t surprise you to hear that I was spat on a few times, though not on purpose I’m quick to defend. That’s just what happens when you live in a place where a bad habit and a lack of space exists. Ahhh the memories! I’d be forgiven if I thought everyone in China loved to spit because it sure seems that way!
Saying all this, once you manage to look past the chaos of China’s busy streets and cultural differences, it’s hard not to fall in love with it.
A way of avoiding or getting over culture shock is accepting that all countries have different habits and rhythms, and sometimes you have to work harder at pushing your own personal judgements aside to see the positive parts of a country that’s vastly different to where you come from.
The frontier between hell and heaven is only the difference between two ways of looking at things ~ George Bernard Shaw
If you want to find out more information about Culture Shock and people’s experiences of it then you should read a post written over at Any Latitude titled, Culture Shock Experiences From Expats