Living abroad is totally different from just travelling through a country. We’ve been able to really get to know about the Chinese way of life, their customs and culture. It’s amazing how much we’ve learned from living here, apparently we didn’t know anything when we travelled here for a month!

We thought it was time to let you in on the quirks of this interesting country, its people and its ways of life.

1. When you’re born, you are 1-year-old. Huh? Yep, you’re never a month old, or even a day old, you come into this world as having already lived a whole year! If that didn’t seem odd enough, when it’s Chinese New Year, you age another year. So, for example, if you were born in January you would be one year old, then in February (Chinese New Year), you would be 2 years old…but in reality you would only be 2 months old! It’s so confusing. We always ask our students: Are you 9 in Chinese years, or actual years?!

chinese culture
How old are you?! Sometimes even Chinese people are confused as to how old they are

2. Writing someone’s name in the colour red is a big no-no. Even though the colour red is very lucky here in China and many things related to money and prosperity are red, you would never write someone’s name with a red pen. Doing so means that they will die soon or that you want them dead! The reason for this is that in ancient times the names of the deceased were written in red on gravestones and plaques.

3. Chopstick etiquette. There are 10 or more “rules” to eating with chopsticks, but I’ll just tell you a couple of the major ones. The first is that you never stick your chopsticks vertically in a bowl or rice; doing so represents feeding the dead or death in general. Another interesting chopstick rule is to never point chopsticks (either when being held, or when resting on your plate) towards another person at the table. It’s considered bad form.

living in china
Watch what you’re doing with those chopsticks…chopstick etiquette is big in China

4. Drinking and eating quickly. Chinese people always seems rushed when they’re eating…and drinking. They arrive at a restaurant, place their order, the food shows up in 5 minutes, they scarf it down, take quick shots of the local booze and then leave after about an hour! Definitely different from an eating experience in Canada – no appetizers, deserts or coffee here!

5. Saying “you’re fat” is ok. definitely don’t come to China if you are slightly self-conscious about your appearance! To the Chinese, being honest about how someone looks is the norm. Whether they say you’re fat, ugly, handsome, beautiful, have a big nose or a big butt, it’s all ok and no one gets offended by it.

6. Lots of ass, but no cleavage. If you come to China in the spring and summer, you’ll see the shortest skirts and shorts you could ever imagine! The women here will wear 5 inch heels, shockingly short skirts, but a very conservative top. Cleavage is never shown in China and Chinese women are very shy about it.

7. Dress for the weather and acclimatize. Chinese people don’t like to use the a/c or the heating unit. If they’re cold, they’ll just wear more clothing. If they’re hot, they’ll suffer through it! They think that going from hot to cold is bad for one’s health.

chinese wedding
Even at a wedding, no heat was on this winter…we’re all “dressed up” in our winter coats!

8. Drink warm drinks. Drinking cold beverages causes stomach aches. You’ll always see Chinese people drinking hot water or at least room temperature water. They believe that this aids in the digestion of food. Also, if you drink cold water, they believe that your body will use energy to warm it up.

drinking tea in china
Drinking room temperature drinks, or hot drinks is the only way to go in China. You wouldn’t want to get a stomach ache…

9. No PDA! As with most Asian countries, showing any “personal displays of affection” is inappropriate. In the more modern cities, you’ll see some younger couples strolling hand in hand, but you’d rarely see anyone hugging and definitely not kissing.

conservative china
Even when a couple gets married, it’s a quick hug at the alter….no making out here!

10. Staying warm. If you’re warm, you can never catch a cold, get the flu or get sick. Nick was coughing and a Chinese friend said “how can you be coughing, it’s warm outside”. It was such a Chinese thing to say. All the foreign teachers loved it.

11. Spring is a date on the calendar. Chinese people wear their winter clothing until a particular date. It doesn’t matter what the actual temperature is outside. It was literally 32 degrees last week and Chinese people were wearing winter coats, pants and boots. Our students come to class in 4 layers of clothing with beads of sweat dripping down their little faces, but hey, it’s not spring time yet!

keeping warm in china
Even though our students are sweating in their 4 layers of clothing, they don’t take them off until it’s officially spring time

12. The sitting month. For the first month after delivering a baby, the mother is expected to remain in bed and stay warm under many layers of blankets. She is not allowed to shower or brush her teeth during this time. Doing so could cause her to catch a cold, give her a headache or loosen her teeth and make her gums bleed. And of course, no cold foods should be eaten – she needs to stay warm. There are many beliefs and traditions surrounding pregnancy and birth, but these ones really stand out!

13. Farts aren’t funny. Our students fart in class all the time and we’re the only ones trying to keep a straight face! It seems that any bodily functions are acceptable in public. Farting, burping, slurping, picking your nose and anything else that we would consider to be poor manners in the west, it totally normal here.

manners in china
Since we don’t have a photo of someone picking their nose, this will have to do….brushing teeth in public is normal, I guess

Chinese culture is the oldest in the world and living here has been so eye-opening. We love learning about new cultures and ways of life, it’s the best part about travelling to a new country! Living here has given us a completely different prospective about China and its people…who truly are some of the kindest in the world.

Have you lived abroad and learned interesting things about the culture? We’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below.




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Living In China: Quirks Of The Culture

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Nick Wharton and Dariece Swift are the owners and founders of Goats On The Road. Together they have been travelling and working abroad since 2008 and have more than 20 years of combined experience in online business, finance, travel and entrepreneurship. Their expert advice has been featured on the Lonely Planet, CNN Money, Business Insider,  WiseBread and Forbes and they also spoke at the World Tourism Forum in Istanbul about the business of travel blogging.

Learn more about Nick Wharton and Dariece Swift on their respective author archives on this site and on the Goats On The Road About Us Page.

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13 thoughts on “Living In China: Quirks Of The Culture

  1. Pretty much 95% of what you said holds true in Korea, too! Still remember the first time I wrote a kid’s name in red marker by accident on the board….bad vibes lol. The no heating thing would drive me mental…..lots of public indoor spaces are unheated but inside most homes, offices and stores they use heat in the winter. Not sure I’d be able to go a month after giving birth without being able to shower or brush my teeth. eek!

  2. Great post. Although I’ve spent more than 16 months in China I’ve never heard of not being 1 day or 1 month old. That sounds so odd to me. As for using chopsticks, it’s so true. I remember struggling a lot when I firstly came to China. Calling you fat is so normal, I agree with that. I was called fat many times and I took it personally. That was a shock to me, but Chinese didn’t care they might have insulted me. I have a different experience with Chinese food. In Hunan province dinners and lunches took 1 hour. All Chinese were eating slowly and talking in the meantime. They ordered a lot of different dishes and tried all of them in moderation. I got bored after 10 minutes!!! It was an nightmare.

  3. Thanks for the comment!
    It’s interesting to know that there are many similarities between China and Korea. I agree, not showering after birth would be something to get used to for sure…

    Cheers 🙂

  4. Hey Agness,

    Thanks for the comment!

    I’m so surprised that you haven’t heard about the birthday thing, you’re right, it is very odd! It’s so different here than at home when it comes to telling someone they’re fat! That would definitely not fly at home 🙂

    I love living here and exploring all of the new things China has to offer.


  5. LOL! That made me think in the things people find strange in my own country too… Well, I’ve been living in India for a couple of months and as you’ve already experienced, this is a wonderful and extremely shocking country! I can truly say that I still get surprise by something every day, and when using the bucket and mug to take a shower or the lack of toilet paper are common things for me now, I still haven’t get used to people throwing the garbage to the floor after eating or the arranged marriages; of course those costumes vary from family to family but the idea of marrying someone you barely know is still very hard to process fro me. Anyways! As long as thew groom and bride are ok with it and nobody is forced, I’m happy for them too.

  6. Thanks for the comment Manuela!

    You’re right, there are so many things that are different about India…which is what makes it so great! Same goes for any country (Colombia included!), if everywhere were the same, how boring would that be?

    Cheers, enjoy your time in India 🙂

  7. Wow those are all really interesting facts! Especially the one about writing names in red pen! I wonder how many people rush home to do that out of spite with someone? haha 🙂

  8. Hi guys! I am so stoked that you have figured out a way to keep travelling and having a great time. I am getting amped for my trip back to South East Asia in a couple months and was looking up spots to go. Your website came up third on my search! I love your blog….hope you are having a good time in Kyrzakhstan. If you happen to be hitting up Asia this winter let me know. I’ll be there for five months this year woo!

  9. Hey Tara, glad you found us!
    We’re having a great time in Kyrgyzstan 🙂 Let us know if you have any questions about SE Asia, we love it there.

    Have a great trip!

  10. haha, that’s hilarious! Ya, they just say it like it is…if you’re fat, have a big nose, are skinny, are white, have acne, they’ll tell you!

    Where are you teaching?

    Thanks for the comment 🙂

  11. That’s so funny and so true!
    One time I was playing I spy with my students and when they asked whether the colour was white (and the answer was yes), one of the students asked: ‘IS IT THE TEACHER?’ And they didn’t even feel a little bit awkward. After a while you just get used to it though!

  12. I literally just came here to see about the farting. I just started an internship program in a hospital in China and on numerous occasions I’ve heard doctors ‘let it rip’ in the office with other people around. The first time it happened another foreigner and I had to fight off the laughter(we are both guys) when we realized that no one else seemed to care.

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