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Wednesday, December 5, 2012
TRAVEL ETIQUETTE IN CHINA
After recent travels, hubby and I thought it would be appropriate to do a three-part blog on our adventures when traveling to one of the world’s largest populated areas – China. Before I get started, let me explain that this first installment will describe what most American’s would not consider common etiquette when traveling to China. The reason we feel this is most important is because there are times when customs are misunderstood due to cultural differences. Our hope is to put upcoming travelers at ease by preparing them with some insight on what to expect when traveling to mainland China and/or Hong Kong. The information that will be provided is not meant as derogatory or demeaning, just the plain truth of what was witnessed or experienced on a daily basis.
The country of China is generally compromised of three parts: Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau (both HK and Macau are compromised of various islands). Mainland China is under the jurisdiction of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which excludes Hong Kong and Macau. These various governments have different currencies, cultures, languages, and environments. It’s always important to mention that it is very hard for people from Mainland China to leave their home to travel to Hong Kong, while Hong Kong residents can freely come and go as they please to and from Mainland China.
Although it’s more common to see South Africans in certain regions of mainland China, it is a rare occurrence to see African Americans walking around the different provinces. With that understanding, blacks are stared at like we are known celebrities or mythical creatures. Please do not take the blatant finger pointing and stares personally. However, Hong Kong is more multi-cultural so you won’t stick out like a sore thumb.
Invasion of space:
Please understand that you are visiting a country with a population of over 1.3 billion people. Space is limited and your frame of mind should consider that. It’s nothing for locals to stand within extreme proximity to one another. U.S. citizens are on the whole “give me five feet” rule; however, this does not apply when visiting foreign lands.
Still don’t understand why but it is not common practice to cover your mouth when you cough. Be aware that a person may be standing right next to you and experience a wide-mouth cough. My only suggestion to you is to turn your head in the opposite direction and/or get out of the way if this is going to be a problem. Cussing or mean-mugging a person will do you no earthly good.
There is a major problem with counterfeit Chinese RMB dollars in Mainland China, so learn how to identify what to look for in the ink. For example, the 100 dollar bill has a reflective green 100 printed in the bottom corner of the bill and you should be able to feel ridges on the printed face of the bill. If the 100 does not reflect or the face of the bill feels too smooth… it’s a fake. FYI: Interchanging your money at the airport (make sure you grab local maps there) does not negate you from receiving these fake bills, so please take the time before you leave any counter to inspect each and every bill you receive. Otherwise, you could find yourself stranded with a disgruntle taxi cab driver or business owner and they will consider it to be your fault and accuse you of being a crook. Photos will be provided below.
Believe it or not, just like the coughing, it is customary to see the locals picking their noses at an alarming rate. Forefinger, pinky finger, or pinky nail… it does not matter. Just make sure that you stay out of the way if this is going to hinder your vacation. Side note: keep plenty of travel wet ones available if you are planning on shaking a lot of hands.
Toilet and paper:
Public washrooms for women consist of a toilet bowl situated in the floor (photo below). Ladies, this means that you have to get ready to squat. Sorry for getting graphic but the lower you squat, the more you are able to avoid wild sprays getting on your clothes. Also, carry a travel pack of tissues and/or wet ones with you because toilet paper will not be provided for you.
Depending on where you are located in China, the assistance that you may be looking for in order to get around town or gathering basic knowledge of the area may be challenging if you cannot speak Chinese (Mandarin or Cantonese). The Chinese dialect differs in Northern and Southern China. English speakers are very far and few to come-by in Mainland China. The best way to get around is to have someone who speaks English to write out locations to any of your destinations in Chinese. Therefore, you can ask someone to read and direct you to a specific location or give the Chinese writing of your location to a taxi driver. It is always best to be ready to play “the ultimate game of charades.” It may be amusing at times, but this is where your creativity and physical gestures come to be veeeery important! Just imagine how you would ask someone who cannot speak your language the most basic things, such as: Where is the toilet? How much something cost? Where to get food or what time is it? These minor things are very challenging at times but entertaining to see because you tend to get very inventive.
Hong Kong is a place of opulence and quality. This province of Hong Kong is defiantly the upper crust of China. You can see the European influence of cars, food, clothing and hotels. English is the second language, therefore making it easy to get around and enjoy what Hong Kong has to offer. Due to the European influence, quality is mandatory in these parts; along with, the hefty price that goes along with the territory but you definitely get what you pay for. Mainland China is very different when it comes to quality. This is where you may run into many counterfeit goods for example: clothing, electronic accessories, even money as you are handed back change, so be careful. If the price may be too good to be true, maybe it’s not true and what you see may not be what you are getting. It was mentioned by travelers that often frequent China… when ordering food, you may not be getting the meat that may be advertised. Example: The shrimp that you order may be some other seafood that closely resembles shrimp.
Public Service Announcement: Be Careful!!!
Relationships may be observed as rather odd in the eyes of Westerners, but the way of life for those of China. It is customary to see groups of young men and women walking/talking/ holding hands down the street or conversing with their arm around one another at the local bar or club. As noticed by wifey and I, many Chinese citizens go to local dance clubs with their friends and just spend time with their immediate company. It is unusual for Chinese citizens to go out of their way to mingle with others they may not know. The time of going out is for a small group of acquaintances to enjoy the time among themselves. They seldom go out to pick up potential mates or find new friends.
Tipping for services:
I have noticed that the customs of tipping in Mainland China and Hong Kong are very different. I believe that it is traditional for Mainland Chinese not to except tips for services (taxi rides, bell hops, waiters at restaurants, etc.). This may vary depending on where you stay and if they are familiar with Westerner/Europeans customs. Those who provide services in Hong Kong are very familiar with Western/European customs; therefore, expect a tip for services rendered.
The salty/sweet flavors that excite Western pallets are not the common choice of Mainland Chinese. What Westerners have known as Chinese food is fictitious food created for the American pallet. Authentic Chinese foods consist of white rice, small pieces of meat, some exotic seafood and a wide assortment of vegetables. There is no such thing as shrimp fried rice, egg rolls, egg foo young, sweet and sour chicken/shrimp/pork and other dishes that we are accustom to eating. Just about everything that is served in America as Chinese food is not heard of in Mainland China. What a reality check!!! The very first time that wifey and I ate in the mainland area, we ordered shrimp assuming that it would be delightful and fresh. To our surprise, the shrimp were served completely with shells, legs and heads. Our appetites were instantly lost and off to McDonald's we went! We have noticed that McDonald's Starbucks, Pizza Hut and KFC have been becoming more familiar in remote and odd places around the world. Hong Kong on the other hand is totally different. Wifey and I enjoy eating just about everything offered in Hong Kong. The food is suited for a more Westernized/European pallet.
Stay tuned for the second installment: Food reviews of restaurants in Mainland China and Hong Kong