One thing you need to wrap your head around when traveling to China is that tipping is frowned upon and can even be seen as offensive. Tipping is not part of the Chinese culture – it might imply that the employee is not valued by their employer. Coming from Canada or the US this feels weird the first few times not to leave something but remeber you don’t have to. That being said, it has become normal to tip tour guides but when it comes to restaurants or taxis, they won’t take your money (I tried).
2. Mannerisms & Etiquette
Throw all mannerisms and etiquette expectations out the window (especially if you’re a seriously nice Canadian like me)! China has a very different culture that some of you may or may not appreciate. First off, there is WAY more people which means you won’t hear, “I’m Sorry!” or “Excuse me.” anywhere. People will walk, run into you, or butt in line without a word. The sooner you can let go of this the easier your trip will be. There is no such thing as personal space either, with a mini city being considered 5 million people. You will also find a number of people spitting on the side of the streets or staring at you and taking photos without permission.
If you have a fear of public restrooms – China might not be the place for you. This was probably my least favourite experiences of the trip. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are the majority of toilets are below (like way below) superb – by that, I mean a hole in the floor, crouch kind of way. Always remember to bring your own toilet paper – 80% of the washrooms in China do not have toilet paper which could leave you in a ‘situation’ you don’t want to be in. There is hope though – if you’re staying in a restaurant or going to a higher end hotel, washrooms tend to be your standard North American kind (toilet paper included).
4. Warm Water vs Cold Water
If you like drinking cold water, you’re (almost) out of luck. In Chinese culture and Traditional Chinese Medicine cold water is not drunk for a number of reasons, with the biggest being that it restricts your digestion. If you drink cold water after eating a meal, your body creates excess mucus, and it doesn’t digest food or absorb nutrients as easily because it’s using its energy to regulate your body temperature. When eating at any restaurant and asking for water they will bring you a tea kettle with warm to hot water or tea. I’d recommend bringing your own water bottle if hot water isn’t your thing.
Internet can be a challenge when traveling to China. The Chinese government monitors and blocks the majority of websites we North Americans use which means there’s no access to Facebook, Instagram, and Google. Thankfully, there is a way around this by using a VPN – I used Express VPN and it worked great for only $12/month and can be used on up to 3 devices at a time. A VPN allows you to surf the web anonymously from wherever you want which means you can access any website you’d like without any issues.
Wifi in China is another challenge. Public wifi can be found almost everywhere, but in order to access it you need to input a Chinese phone number at which point you’ll be sent a code to access the WIFI. I found the best wifi was in the hotel. That being said, depending on how long you’re traveling for, you could consider getting a Chinese SIM card in which point you’ll have easier access to WIFI.
From my experience, the majority of people in China do not speak English. You might find it more common in bigger cities like Shanghai, but even then it’s not very likely. We even found North American chain restaurants and coffee shops had minimal English. Having traveled to Thailand and many places in Europe, English is pretty common so it was a bit of a surprise when we arrived in China. We’d be in restaurants trying to order food off of pictures in Menus, having the server Google translate us what everything was. The Google Translate app was a LIFESAVER. It allows you to download any language onto your phone so you don’t need wifi or data to access it. We’d be typing in words and showing it to either the servers or people on the streets which worked really well. Another amazing feature of Google Translate was the fact that you can hover your camera over Chinese characters and it turns to English (mindblown). This made it really easy to read Chinese menus, especially ones with no pictures.
7. Bargain, Bargain, Bargain
Don’t be afraid to bargain! Everywhere you go, they are going to give you a higher price than it is actually worth. This is especially common in the markets or with street vendors. Most of them will carry a calculator on them to show you the price, but if they don’t have one your phone works great too. I was buying bags and they wanted 1o00 Yuan which would equate to about $200 Candian and I ended up getting it down to 400 Yuan which was closer to $80 Canadian. This did require me saying no and walking away but 9/10 they will go with your final price. The best rule of thumb is to offer them 50% less than what they ask for. If you’re not comfortable with it, I’d say just give it a go! What’s the worst thing that could happen?
One of the best ways to get around was using the subway system or a cab. With phones, it’s really easy to find the best route on a Subway and if you have WIFI in your hotel you can map out your route and find out which subway lines you need to take. One trip in Shanghai cost us about $1 Canadian and the system was really clean and easy to use.
Cabs are also a really inexpensive way to get around. The trouble is trying to hail a cab. From our experience, most drivers won’t pick you up because you don’t speak Chinese and they don’t speak English. That being said, if you’re staying in a hotel get the front desk to order you a cab, or just keep trying until someone stops. Always, always, always keep a copy or picture of your address on hand, this will make it really easier to show your cab driver where you want to go without having to worry about the language barrier. The same thing works for the subway, you can show the help desk and they can guide you to the best route.
I didn’t know what to expect when it came to the food in China but it was really delicious. Despite the fact that we didn’t know what we were ordering most of the time (this is where Google Translate came in really handy), everything was fresh and full of flavour. The Chinese like to eat family style, so most of our lunches with the tour came with a variety of dishes. They like to cook with a lot of spice and use a number of different veggies. If you don’t like spicy, get that translated and make sure to show your server when you order. A lot of the food in China is fairly greasy but surprisingly that didn’t bother our stomachs at all. If you’re in Beijing make sure to try the Pecking Duck or Shanghai Noodles in Shanghai. Aside from that, I’d recommend getting any of the veggie dishes like fried cabbage, Enoki mushrooms, or spicy cauliflower and you have to try some sort of seafood!
The Chinese do like to eat all parts of the animal so make sure to have your translate app ready.
If you’re traveling to China and have any questions, leave a comment or shoot me a message on the contact page!