In the first entry I covered a little bit of the forces that brought China to where they are today with some of the overall relative effects. In this entry, I’ll describe more of what you will see and can expect at a “street” level with some thoughts on what that means to you.
Get ready to bargain
The act of bargaining itself underlies a fundamental difference in culture. In North America and Europe, we rely on our codes and laws to protect the consumer.
We expect that the price that is listed is the market value price and that is that. In China, nothing is fully determined until it’s over. That holds true in many situations, but it’s particularly obvious in the bargaining process. Instead of the responsibility being on the seller to verify the quality of their products in order to protect itself against liability and returns, the responsibility is on the customer to determine the quality for themselves at the time of purchase because, unless it is renegotiated separately at a later time (which can be tough to do), there are no refunds and if you try to sue the company will go out of business and open up two days later under a different name down the road.
The urban landscapes are homogeneous
The urban landscapes don’t hold a lot of diversity, and, in fact, the landscapes are quite reflective of the lifestyles. Perhaps I am a bit biased living in the San Francisco Bay Area, but here the vast number of hobbies is a bit overwhelming. Within 20 miles of my house there are sports of all kinds, including adult kickball and dodgeball, bike polo, renaissance knights who battle every Thursday in the subway parking lot, fixed gear cycling…homemaker hobbies like scrapbooking, bead festivals, quilting, gardening…DIY festivals, home beer brewing, movie nights at the parks…really an endless array of activities.
In China, the hobby options are quite limited. The three main past times are eating, eating, and eating. Yes, food is HUUUGE in China, but, to the point, most Chinese live very simply, focusing on their work, education, and family and you can see it from the storefronts. Having traveled all over China for the last seven years I still have never seen a game store. I took our team out for camping the last time I was in China and for about half of them it was the first time they had ever been camping. What can be implied from all this is that work, education, and family are very important to the Chinese and they will spend a lot of time devoted to these aspects of their lives without having a lot of distraction from some of the past times that are widespread in other industrialized nations.
It’s ‘Ni hao’, not ‘konichiwa’
China isn’t Japan. This may sound obvious, but I think the greater Japanese influence over general Asian culture in the US has led a lot of people to project Japanese values onto their mainland brothers. There are some similarities, but in other ways, as far as the Asian countries go, they are on opposite ends of the spectrum. The main difference being that Japan is a very formal country. Traditions are deeply revered and all people are expected to show their reverence for those traditions. In China, the environment is much more casual. Spitting and honking are prevalent, jaywalking is almost mandatory, and business attire is generally casual. Be careful to analyze your own perspective on Asian culture and be sure you understand which attributes are truly associated with which culture.
There are no fortune cookies in China
Similar to confusing Japan with China, be careful to even take your local perspective of Chinese culture overseas.
It’s difficult to present useful information in bite sized segments on a subject as broad as Chinese culture, and there is definitely a lot that I’ve left out, but, did you find this entry informative? If you have experience in China, what would you add to the discussion about Chinese culture at the street level? If you have any specific questions, fire away!