Slurp to your heart’s content when visiting China. // © 2015 Thinkstock
Feature image (above): China has more than 1 billion residents, so rush hour is not for the faint of heart. // © 2015 Thinkstock
Unfamiliar norms are plentiful when traveling to faraway destinations — including China. And despite my advantageous fluency in Mandarin, I still experienced bouts of culture shock during my first visit.
Both frequent visitors to China, Rachel Wasser, an innovation manager for G Adventures, and Craig Hsu, vice president of China Discovery Tours, have a few tips for overcoming culture shock and focusing on the enrichment and beauty that China has to offer.
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The Chinese prefer to dine family style, passing plentiful dishes around a Lazy Susan. Drinking is no exception.
“Beer comes in big bottles,” Wasser said. “Fill up your small cup and ‘gan bei’ — bottoms up!”
Elders eat first.
Hsu stresses that, out of respect, younger diners should wait for the older people to eat first. Also, I personally have been taught to serve food to elders as dishes arrive and to replenish their plates as a meal progresses.
Unlike at home, you’re expected to hold a bowl close to your face and slurp its hot contents — loud noises and all.
But, Wasser warns, watch where you put your chopsticks. Don’t stick them upright into a bowl of rice — this resembles funeral incense and is bad luck. Lay your chopsticks across the top of your bowl instead.
Tips aren’t expected and are sometimes refused.
Hsu said a restaurant owner once ran after a client who had placed a tip at the table, exclaiming, “You left this!”
However, this isn’t to say tips won’t always be appreciated. If you feel compelled to do so, leave a tip to recognize excellent service, particularly from guides and chauffeurs on organized tours, servers at high-end restaurants and any hotel attendants.
Pack toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
According to Wasser, public restrooms are generally abundant and clean, but most are “squat-style” and don’t have these amenities.
Take the lack of personal space in stride, especially during rush hour.
Keep in mind that China has more than 1 billion residents — and rush hour isn’t a cake walk in most major metropolitan areas anyway. Blatant stares or even touching of hair will sometimes happen.
“Just looking at it all as funny and interesting aspects of the culture can make your experience much more fulfilling,” Wasser said.