It is worryingly easy to develop bad habits when living as an expat in China. At the same time, it’s very difficult to recognize the bad habits you’ve already acquired.
Whether you’re new to China or a veteran expat, watch out for the following bad habits and don’t let them get their claws in.
1. Relying on locals to speak Chinese for you
When you first arrive in China, the language can be completely overwhelming.
Nothing makes sense and it feels like the more you learn, the more difficult it is to understand.
But wherever you live as an expat in China, you’ll need some level of Mandarin to be able to function in your daily life, whether you have serious matters to deal with, like getting your visa renewed or negotiating with your landlord, or more trivial things, such as calling a cab, ordering lunch, or buying items online.
In those early days in China, it’s completely understandable that you might ask a local friend or colleague to help you out.
At some point, we’ve all asked for someone to speak to our driver to give directions, to help quickly translate some message, or communicate with a seller on Taobao.
The problem arises when, instead of starting to learn the language for yourself or at least arming yourself with translation tools, you become more and more dependent on your Chinese friends for help.
Your whole life begins to revolve around people helping you; every time you need to speak to your landlord, every time you want to buy something online, every time you order lunch into the office.
It’s okay to ask for help, but don’t become dependent on others.
If you’re currently in this sticky trap, try to wean yourself off gradually.
Look at one aspect of your life where you are reliant on others and work on your Chinese in this area.
You probably can’t change everything at once, but you’ll be amazed at how much you can achieve if you take it one step at a time and try to tackle things yourself.
2. Complaining about life in China
Many expats in China experience quite a culture shock on arrival. There’s no denying it.
We often see things we don’t agree with, whether it’s as simple as the way people drive, queue up, or even talk on the phone, to more serious differences like how people treat animals or react when they see accidents or crime.
The question here isn’t whether what foreigners complain about is right or wrong. It’s about complaining about it at all.
There are few things more annoying than listening to a washed-up expat sat in the pub complaining for the millionth time about how nobody knows how to drive in China or how old Chinese folk always cut the queue.
We’ve heard it all many times before, we’ve probably experienced it all many times too, but complaining about it won’t make any difference.
All it does is fill your day with negativity and bring those around you down.
So if you find yourself in this spiral where you’re constantly complaining about China, seriously ask yourself what good it’s doing for you.
Whenever you find yourself about to complain about something, ask what you’ll achieve by saying this and if the people around you really want to hear it.
It’s not about if you’re right or wrong in what you say. It’s about deciding if you want that kind of negativity in your life.
3. Eating out all the time
It’s very easy to eat out or order in all the time in China. Far too easy, in fact.
For one, the local food is amazing, there are more and more international cuisines opening up all the time, and the various apps make delivery dangerously convenient and affordable.
Furthermore, many expats in China live pretty fast-paced and socially-active lives and it’s just so much easier to eat out. By the time we finish work in the evening, we don’t necessarily have the time or energy to cook.
And on the weekends, there’s always some event or someone’s birthday.
Even if you’re not out doing something, staying in and cooking for yourself is just no fun.
What all this adds up to is a lot of money being spent when you go out and a lot of plastic being wasted when you order in.
Not to mention that you really have no idea what’s going into your body.
It’s not easy, but try to schedule in cooking one or two meals a week at home.
To help motivate yourself, plan to cook something that you don’t normally get to eat, such as a favorite recipe from your childhood. If you need further motivation, invite a few friends round to join you.
That way it’s much harder for you to bail out of cooking at the last moment.
Once you get the cooking bug, you’ll be surprised how much you start to eat at home, and also how much money you can potentially save.
4. Letting you health slide
It’s not always easy for expats to keep in shape in China. The local food, while delicious, can be very oily, and there tend to be lots of socializing, and, as a result, drinking.
Working hours are long, leaving little time or motivation for exercise at the end of the day. It’s not really surprising then that a lot of expats gain a noticeable amount of weight in their first year in China.
The hard truth is that it takes more effort and commitment to keep fit here.
One way to combat this is to sign up to a gym and go before work in the morning.
While it will be hard getting up earlier at the start, you’ll soon get into the rhythm and find yourself feeling energized for the entire day after your workout.
If you’re not a gym bunny, you might at first struggle to find sports teams (unless you like basketball or badminton).
But if you look hard enough, there’s sure to be a sports group that interests you in every major Chinese city. Check around on Facebook, ask in WeChat groups, or simply talk to people. Eventually, you’ll find what you’re looking for.
You might also assume that because we live in such giant concrete jungles there’s nowhere to run or swim. But do a little research on local parks or swimming centers, as local governments have been putting more and more funding into these areas in recent years.
If you can find a park you enjoy jogging in or get into the habit of swimming once or twice a week, it’ll make a world of difference to your health and general wellbeing.
5. Being addicted to Taobao
The last bad habit is perhaps the most straightforward, but also may be the hardest to kick.
Taobao: we all love it, we might as well admit it. It’s so wrapped up in our lives that no matter what question someone asks in China, the answer will somehow be “Taobao.”
While there is admittedly an unparalleled selection and fantastic value to be had, Taobao can be a slippery slope.
Not only does it deplete your finances without you even realizing what you’re spending, but when you buy things online that you can easily source from neighborhood shops, you’re also effectively taking money out of the pockets of the community.
You need to start worrying when you find yourself randomly searching the app or picking up a small tower of packages every day from the delivery box outside your building.
Reducing your dependency on Taobao can be hard, but try setting yourself limits and being strict about enforcing them. Before making any purchase, ask yourself if you really need it and, if so, if you can’t find it locally.
Set a monthly budget for how much you can spend on the app.
Taobao dependency is a hard one to kick, but you’ll thank yourself when you return home and can no longer rely on it for everything.
What other bad habits have you picked up in China?
Tell us about them in the comments section below.