When we set ourselves the goal of traveling to China for a season. Learning the language is often presented as a primary and almost unavoidable issue. However, beyond the level of self-confidence or mastery that one acquires with Mandarin or Cantonese. There are a whole series of aspects to consider by those who seek to gain a foothold in Chinese society. For this reason, in this article, I would like to offer 6 tips that have been of great help to me during my particular journey of social research in this country.
1- Try to live with Chinese or, at least, have Chinese neighbors
First, on most university campuses in China, foreign students live in residences that are clearly separate from Chinese student residences, which makes it quite difficult to enter the spaces of their daily lives. Second, establishing ties with the foreign community can be an obstacle to making Chinese friends. Since socio-cultural integration is not a priority for many of them, and on more than one occasion. You will find that their attitude towards the local people and culture is not going to help you.
Regarding the bureaucratic procedures necessary to reside on your own. They may be more or less complicated depending on the university and the province in which you study. But if you want to make the most of your stay, I advise you to be patient during the first two weeks. And make the effort to pay for a hotel or hostel until you find your “Chinese environment” and it is recognized as a place of residence.
2- Try to have more Chinese friends than foreigners
Despite the fact that they can be shy many times, Chinese in general. And university students, in particular, feel a great interest in relating to foreigners and are very kind to us. Although it is also true that they have certain preferences for those who fit in. With the Hollywood image of the North Americans and the Europeans of pale tone.
On many occasions, I have heard foreigners complain that the Chinese only approach them to practice English. But it seems to me that this is a natural aspect of the exchange that social relations in general bring and that there is no reason to despise it.
On the other hand, and although it sounds a bit harsh to say it, remember that if you have come to China to get into their way of life. Dedicating your time to establish relationships with other foreigners will be a bad investment in most cases and as I have already done. As mentioned earlier, it’s easy to get caught up in the fearsome circle of “self-indulgent misfits” who are dedicated to embittering staff on every campus in China.
Also, don’t forget that if you don’t speak Chinese, something as normal as reserving a train ticket. Or finding the bus that will take you to that cultural event that interests you. You can be much more complicated than you think. And it is in those moments when you will be most grateful to have made Chinese friends.
3- Find yourself a local partner
Having good Chinese friends can be a key to being invited to spend the New Year with your family or to participate in all kinds of popular customs or traditional festivals. But when it comes to understanding Chinese society. Few things are as beneficial as establishing an intimate relationship with a local person.
Having a partner who has grown up in China can not only help you improve your level of Chinese. But it can also be a great advantage when discussing or interpreting any issue. However delicate or uncomfortable it may sound to your Chinese friends. Now, we should be careful when it comes to flirting because in China, dating a boyfriend or girlfriend generally carries a much stronger commitment. And expectations than in Europe, North America, and many other western regions.
4- Look for references that come from your area of cultural influence
Before launching into articles about life in China written by German, English, or North American ex-pats, try to find sources that share your cultural heritage. It is enough to take a look at history to remember the differences in the colonization style of the powers of southern and northern Europe to understand how different it can be to “adapt” to local life for Anglo-Saxons or Latinos.
In addition, at this point, there is a large number of blogs, web pages. And forums written and managed by and for Spanish-speaking people (Chinochano, Chinalati, Zai China, etc.), where you can find detailed information on almost any aspect that you can interest about life in China.
5- Eat what they serve you and try to create a good atmosphere at the table
Lunches and dinners are vitally important in strengthening ties within Chinese society. And they are also a golden opportunity to assimilate the local mentality.
As in many other cultures, in the Chinese tradition, being invited to a lunch or dinner implies enjoying the food and drink served to try to please. Or at least not contradict, the expectations of the host, who will also expect that your guests help to “entertain” the evening. That is why it is important to eat without shyness and without scruples what is served at the table. And generate a good atmosphere of celebration among the diners. Either by proposing toasts, telling a joke or funny story, or even singing a short verse.
On the other hand, with regard to food, citizens from southwestern European and Latin American countries have a great adaptation advantage over those from northeastern Europe and North America, where the habit of eating entrails has been lost, a common ingredient of delicious Chinese cuisine.
6- Be careful with your facial and body gestures
Within the Chinese tradition, facial expressions are an element of bodily communication that is treated with a special level of care and attention. Contrary to what many think, it is not that the Chinese are expressionless by nature. But that from a young age they are educated to control their body gestures and avoid making faces. A custom that many consider as a sign of lack of education or as a result of a rare disregard for wrinkles.
In any case, during my wanderings in this country. I have noticed that not a few Westerners neglect this aspect even at dinners and important meals. Without noticing that a gesture of disgust for the dish served not only represents contempt for the poor cook. But also towards the host, and even towards those guests who feel identified with this culinary specialty. Something very common in a country so fond of good food.
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