Whether you’ve lived in China for a while or are just visiting, you’ll likely come across some pretty stark cultural differences.
Identifying these differences is important, but even more so is learning to deal with them, either on a personal or professional level.
Without further ado, here are four ways to navigate cultural differences when living in China.
1. Learn about them (knowledge is power)
If you find something strange about Chinese people or their culture, look into it.
The more you know about Chinese customs and history, the more you’ll understand and empathize with the way things are today.
Ask questions, do your own research, and figure out the root cause behind a particular behavior or custom.
You might have strong personal feelings about some of the things you come across in China, but the first step is determining how widespread whatever has upset you is.
Until this point, you should avoid using phrases such as, “Chinese people are/do/think…” unless you’re confident that it’s prevalent across the entire culture.
2. Understand why it upsets you
Some cultural differences will make you shrug, while others will infuriate you.
If a Chinese person does or says something that annoys you, it might just be because your own cultural teachings have ingrained other values in you.
Understanding that no one culture is necessarily right or wrong will help you assimilate better when living in China.
Sure, you might have personal expectations about the way things should be, but remember that this is not your country.
Certain customs, like queuing behavior, paying before you eat, or spitting in the street, can take some getting used to, but understanding why these bother you is an important step towards accepting them.
Acknowledging that we too have habits that the Chinese find weird is also important.
3. Don’t take it personally
Most locals you come across while living in China are not malicious in nature.
China is generally a very passive society, so if someone annoys you or makes you angry, they probably didn’t do it on purpose.
Adapting your perspective towards cultural differences and realizing no-one is deliberately being rude will not only beneficial to your mental health but also help you stay out of trouble as you may not feel the need to confront people about their behavior or ideas.
No matter how much you yell and argue, people aren’t likely to change simply because you told them to.
Additionally, it’s not beneficial to see everything as “us” and “them.” People are all inherently the same, and it’s these cultural differences that, while at times can be annoying, make life interesting.
4. Talk to Chinese people
It’s easy to sit on the fringes of a new culture and judge or insult everything about it.
The more you talk to Chinese people about their culture and points of view, however, the more you’ll understand where they’re coming from.
Talking with Chinese people about the differences between your specific cultural thoughts and behaviors is your best chance of getting someone to see things from your point of view (or for you to see things from their’s).
Yelling at people on the subway, no matter how gratifying it might feel at the time, won’t change anything.
At the end of the day, communication is key, and even if nothing changes because of a conversation, it’s a step in the right direction.
No matter how long you’ve been living in China, there’ll always be things you don’t like. Cultural differences are a ubiquitous and important part of living abroad.
You’re not likely to understand or agree with everything you experience, but there are several things you can do to either adapt to or increase your understanding of a different culture.
Ultimately, understanding, not necessarily accepting, will help you navigate cultural differences while living in China.