An American’s cultural observations in China

I present a list in no particular order of some things I’ve remarked about the country, its people, and the culture. Some may be generalizations that I shouldn’t generalize about based on what I’ve witnessed, so I apologize in advance, but most things seem pretty common. Feel free to call me out if you feel I’m been overly hasty with any of these observations.

Walking around

  • Spitting! Everyone does it (men and women), anywhere and everywhere.
  • Squatting – a rarely seen position in the Western hemisphere, it’s very common here for people to squat on their haunches.
  • Lining up – lines do not exist in China. Well, most of the time. In airports they kind of do. But most of the time, if you want something and you don’t cut to the front and push your way (more than even a New Yorker is used to), you will be waiting around for a long time.
  • Few beggars – there are very few homeless on the street or in underground passageways. Stark contrast with New York. Alwyn explained that in Singapore there are some, but they sell packets of tissues since strictly begging is illegal.

On the streets

  • Construction everywhere – when people say China is up and coming to be the world’s most powerful nation, I don’t doubt it. There are some incredibly large cities here that put many American metropolises to shame, and the skyline of each one is scattered with cranes all over creating new high-rises.
  • No traffic laws – similar to no lines, there are seemingly no traffic laws, as one cabbie in Beijing actually said himself. “Why don’t you signal when you change lanes,” Remus asked in Beijing. “If I signal before changing lanes, then the cars won’t let me in,” the taxi driver responded. “You just have to go for it and push your way in.” Drivers frequently seem to enjoy driving on the sidewalks.


  • Eating quickly – the Chinese eat meals very quickly. Numerous times I’ve waited in line a while for a meal and ended up being surrounded by people eating said food in less than half the time we queued for.
  • Leaving meals immediately – when done with a meal, the Chinese don’t seem to care to linger. This was one of the most stark things I noticed since Westerners often so enjoy the opportunity just to sit and chat long after all the food is gone.
  • (Almost) no breakfast – distinct breakfast foods aren’t very common, and I believe this is true throughout much of Asia. Many of the dishes that can be enjoyed for lunch or dinner could be and are just as easily consumed in the morning. That said, my breakfast of soft-boiled eggs and kaya toast in Singapore was delicious and very “breakfasty”


  • Almost no one speaks it – numerous times I’ve called Sally or a hotel or other contact to explain things in Chinese when I just can’t get my idea across. When taking cabs, you need the Chinese address.
  • Spelling out words – those that do speak some English (tour guides, etc.) often spell out words after they say them. Amusingly, they’re usually the simplest words and the ones that are pronounced best.

That’s all I’ve got for now. I’ll update this post if I notice or think of any others.

One thought on “An American’s cultural observations in China

  1. Jane

    Both in China and in Southeast Asia, we were each given a business card from our
    hotel(s) to show to a taxi driver so we could get back. Saying the name in English just didn’t make it. When I was in Hanoi department store and needed to buy deodorant, you had to have seen Susan Brandt act it out for a saleswoman so that we got what I wanted. She looked like a gorilla, but I got my deodorant!


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