Our 6 international staff members cumulatively have visited over 30 countries but decided to settle down in China for(ever?) a while. China was able to charm them with its 3000 years of history, unique culture, friendly locals, ‘OMG that’s so good!’ food, amazing views, diversity, hyper-connected city life…and the list goes on and on. On the other hand, they also all agree that China is that one place that gave them the most ‘Wait…What?!’ moments.
So, we’ve asked our international team members to tell us about what has surprised them when they first landed in China. Some have been living in here for a while and funnily still get taken aback by some of these. We compiled 11 lesser known facts about daily life in China below. Let us know what you think and if you think we missed any!
1. You will be served hot water – Even in Summer.
100% of restaurants will provide water for free, but it’s going to be a hot one. For your first days in China, this might be a bit strange but we guarantee that you will get used to it. Moreover, after gulping down way too much yummy Chinese food, we really advise you to drink some of that hot water and experience its unsuspected benefits.
Drink the hot water! If you really cannot do it, you will have to wait for it to cool down.
2. Smoking inside is not allowed BUT…
Once you land in China and start finding your way around, you will notice that indoor ‘No Smoking’ signs are unfortunately subject to one’s own interpretation. While you won’t see this happening in malls or touristy areas, you will, once you go slightly off the affluent areas and end up in slightly more local restaurants and bars.
Unfortunately, if this does happen it means that the owners of the restaurant allow it and nothing you say will make a difference. If this really disturbs you, you can ask to change table and be moved away from the smokers.
3. Want to eat with your hands? Take some gloves!
When ordering food like pizza, wraps, shrimps…well any food that’s much easier to eat using your hands, you might be given disposable gloves. Why? Well very simply to help you keep those nice little hands clean from that pizza cheese or that mayo from your wrap. Also, if you wanted to wash your hands beforehand (pun intended ) and couldn’t do it, those disposable gloves come in very handy.
If you do not want to use them, don’t worry! Not everyone does. And if you were not offered one and would like a pair, you can just ask at the counter.
4. You can shout to call for your waiter.
This one can come as a real surprise if you are not prepared. If you are waiting and really cannot seem to grab the attention of a waiter, you will sometimes hear other patrons call waiters with a loud ‘fuwuyuan (pronounced as foo-woo-yuan)’. This is not be taken as a general rule though and the best is to judge by the type of environment you are in.
If you notice other patrons doing it, it means it acceptable. If making eye contact with your waiter proves to be difficult and you are not sure, either wait until he comes nearer or walk to him.
5. China is already a cash less society and paying with a foreign credit card can be difficult.
China is already in the future. You will hardly notice any local paying in cash but instead use their phone to do so. Most payments in China, if not all, can now be done through mobile payment systems like WeChat or Alipay.
While mobile payment is definitely the easiest way to pay, it can only be done if you possess a local bank account. If you are planning to travel to China, cash is still widely accepted but DO NOT plan on using your foreign credit card here. Most places will simply refuse it if it’s not a local credit card or charge you extra to use it.
6. Do I have to tip in China?
No, you do not need to tip.
If you really want to thank someone for their awesome service, you can of course tip. A tip will not appear as offensive. It is just not expected.
7. You can bring outside drinks in your favorite restaurant.
It’s your last day in China and you really want to get yesterday’s strawberry smoothie again while getting lunch at that delicious small noodle joint you just found? No problem! You can still get the best of both worlds! Bringing your drink ordered from somewhere else is widely accepted in restaurants.
Just do it! (We know how cool China is. 😉 )
8. Collective food orders.
When Chinese order food in a restaurant, they will order dishes that are meant to be placed in the middle and shared among everyone. Instead of having individual dishes for each person around the table, they do it in a more communal way, a bit like a dinner at home . Moreover, if you have the opportunity to share a dinner with locals, do expect them to (over)feed you by placing food in your dish and giving you the best parts. Food is meant to be shared and Chinese people live by this rule.
Just do as locals do. If you are having food in typical Chinese restaurant, order different types of dishes to be placed at the center and shared among the people around the table. In this way everyone get to taste everything!
9. Nobody will judge you for leaving a messy table.
We agree that having dinner with lots of dishes being shared can also lead to a messier table, we’ve seen it. Ha! But worry not! Leaving your restaurant table in a state of war is totally fine.
We are not telling you to purposefully do it but you will realise how it can easily happen when you, as an inexperienced chopstick user, will try to handle the best noodles of your life. So don’t be scared to live a little mess, owners won’t judge you.
10. You can rinse your dish before eating.
Sometimes some restaurants will provide huge kettles of hot water (or sometimes hot tea ) and small buckets on the table. These are for you to rinse your dishware before using them.
You won’t find this at every restaurant and if you do, you can chose to do it or not.
11. BYON (Bring Your Own Napkin)
You will quickly realise that finding free public bathrooms in China is not a problem, but you will have to be prepared with your own tissue. Lots of restaurants also do not provide napkins and having your own readily available, will be really helpful in certain situations.
When in China, always keep a pack of paper napkins/tissue/serviette in your bag. These are going to be useful for restaurants and going to the bathrooms.