PBV Part 2: Modern Chinese Culture at the Street Level

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.

China Street Level

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.

they won’t have any idea what a fortune cookie is
The Chinese that have immigrated to your country are probably from an elite socioeconomic status and have certainly assimilated some of your local customs in order to make life work in their new home. The average Chinese person still in China will be much different. For one, they won’t have any idea what a fortune cookie is and will think it’s truly funny when you tell them it’s Chinese food!

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!

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2 Responses to PBV Part 2: Modern Chinese Culture at the Street Level

  1. found your site on del.icio.us today and really liked it.. i bookmarked it and will be back to check it out some more later

  2. Kim Babjak says:

    Having spent time in China with Greg myself, I can tell you this is so funny to hear of these things that people doing in China. While I am there, I never really notice these kinds of tendencies because I (we) are always busy going from factory to factory, and of course eating, all the time like Greg says. I love to eat, but sometimes have to pass on a meal, because we just ate a huge meal 3-4 hours ago. China is a great experience and place to source products, and Greg is the BEST at it!

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