China’s Culture – Subtle Differences

Not So Subtle Differences in Cultures

subtle differences
You can find street dentists in China

Having now lived in China for over a year. I am recognizing some of the subtleties that make American culture so different from Chinese culture. In many cases it is our perspective on life and the experiences we’ve encountered to form our beliefs in dealing with life in general. How we might identify or phrase something is based on cultural upbringing. When I first arrived, Tai would tell me to “wash my teeth.” I found the phrase a bit odd but I still knew what she was saying. Chinese, or at least Tai is a bit OCD about “washing her teeth,” (5-6 times a day) so she would be reminding me to, wash my teeth. I explained in America we say, brush our teeth. Today Tai regularly refers to brushing our teeth, but occasionally she will refer to it as washing. In Chinese culture, there is a widespread belief that treatment for primary teeth is not essential, and that many more conservative-minded Chinese consider Western medicine aggressive and in some instances used too extensively, according to a review of oral health for Chinese and three other ethnic groups published in 2008. Chinese only go to the dentist if they experience pain. They do not believe in the twice a year checkups. Just as going to the doctor, they go when all other options have been exhausted. Preventative healthcare/medicine is not part of Chinese life.

Let’s Sleep

Some Chinese Businesses encourage Sleeping

Chinese people love to sleep. Something I have not quiet adapted to is the afternoon nap. After eating lunch the Chinese will take a nap. And strangely it is promoted in many work places. There are some businesses, if you call them during the lunch period, you will actually get a message that says it is lunch, our employees are sleeping. Call back after so and so time. After eating lunch, Tai is always (everyday) telling me to lie down and sleep. But I usually keep doing whatever I am doing at the moment. She goes to the bedroom and sleeps for 2-3 hours and sometimes longer. I remember before I moved to China chatting with Tai via text and asked her what she was doing. It was about 12 noon Chinese time. She told me she had just finished eating lunch and now she was in a hospital room taking a nap in the bed. For anyone who does not know, Tai is a nurse and works at a cancer hospital.

Into Their Own Thing

Some other subtle differences are the Chinese are not very observant about the things going on around them. They tend to be completely focused on their on thing and not distracted by other things happening around them. This is interesting. In business Chinese people adhere to a social quality. Chinese will want to know you on a personal basis, whether a co-worker or someone they are doing business with. Tai tells me she knows her co-workers but she is not friends with any of them. She would never be friends with them outside of work. But outside of work it seems much different to me. I am a people watcher and watching people of a different culture is intriguing to me. From what I have observed in the area where I live and shop the Chinese people are not interested or curious about what is happening around them. Unless they see me walking down street. Then I get a few stares as if I was some celebrity. Or someone strange-looking, so they stare. I am seeing things, movements, flashing lights, noises, etc that is constantly getting my attention, even if it is for a brief moment. Now I just might be different in this aspect, since most likely people living in the big cities in America are not curious either most likely. Or it could be all this is very curious to me as it is new and different and the Chinese have lived with the same activity for so long it no longer penetrates their vision.

Chinese Manual Labor

You see a lot of Chinese men & women with these brooms cleaning streets and sidewalks

Subtle differences with blue-collar workers. For the last few months our apartment complex has been undergoing major renovations. The new roads and sidewalks along with a new outside paint scheme, new outside entrance doors and brick entrance walkways. Fresh paint on the hallways and stairwells have been a tremendous improvement. Watching the workers at times can be fascinating in the way they handle some of the work projects.  Manual labor is still highly used here, where in America many things done by machine or is mechanically done. In Changchun, laying brick, the mortar is completely mixed by hand. And clearing areas of weeds and tall grass, instead of a commercial lawn mowing equipment and chain saws for cutting down small trees, the neglected grass is cut by hand using curved hand sickles and trees and branches are cut with a hand saws. There would be quiet a few men doing the cutting. What appears to be very old two-wheel wheelbarrows are used to removed debris and other items. There are many men doing this job. Even without up to date machinery the Chinese work quickly. There are many women involved doing this work as well. When they paved the road in front of our building there were 20 plus men and women behind the paving machine spreading the asphalt to make sure all areas were covered. They do have those heavy rolling machines to pack and smooth down the pavement. Another thing is three-fourths of the people I saw working were older Chinese men, easily in their 50s and maybe 60s. Then again it could the sign of a hard life and looking much older. A significant number of these works smoked also. Which is a big problem in China. There are some packs of cigarettes you can get for less than a dollar here.

Wages and Living Without

The Chinese culture has not caught up with America and other parts of the world concerning wages. Imagine working in a professional career for 25 plus years and being a supervisor and making less than minimum wage in America. That is in a professional position mind you. Think what the people who are doing blue-collar work are getting paid. China is truly a poor country. They eat food the rest of the world would never consider eating. Just like Tai, many Chinese only take a complete bath once a week. That is the day the hot water heater gets turned on. And doing things in the dark is normal so they can save on the electric bill. You might think these things are a bit excessive but to the Chinese, in their mind it is what they need to do to survive. And they have been doing it all their lives, first seeing their parents live this way. And they are obsess with using little of the resources and utilities available. They make these personal sacrifices, making life in a sense (to me) very uncomfortable so they can buy food and clothing. Those two things seem to have more priority here. At lease in Changchun. There is no thermostat to control the heat. One temperature throughout the winter months. If you keep the windows close you can maintain about a 60-65 degree temp in the home. And it gets extremely cold in Changchun. Our average high temp for the last couple of months have been in the mid teens. With many nights in low single digits or below zero. Believe me that is cold. Virginia just went through about a 2 week cold spell. And now I am seeing people posting the temps back in the 40s and 50s. Try dealing with frigid temps for 4 months or more in a row.

All Chinese people have this in common

This is what you find in public restrooms in China – Squat Toilets
Don’t flush the Toilet Paper – It’s a no no

Can you guess what the one thing just about every Chinese person has with them when they go out in public? It does not matter what season it is. Or what your status is in life. They have this with them year round.  It is toilet paper. It is a must to carry this with you anytime you venture out. Just about every public toilet you come across, you will not find any toilet paper available. Go to MacDonald’s, no toilet paper, go to the hospital, no toilet paper. Bus or train station no toilet paper. And unless you find a handicap bathroom, expect to squat down over what they call squat toilets. They even post a “no squatting” sign next to regular toilets. Crazy! Not a pretty sight people. Especially if someone has done their business and missed the target. Most squat toilets are not clean like the picture I’ve included here. Very nasty to see these places. I truly feel sorry for the people who have to clean these facilities. But every toilet does have a small waste basket beside it so you can dispose of the toilet paper you use. The plumbing is very bad in many places, including homes where it is bad to flush the toilet with toilet paper in it. Signs are even posted in public bathrooms. The lines clog up very easily. I am guessing  because the pipes are too small and very old. . So I have had to adopt to a standard that I am still not the most comfortable doing and that is rolling up and tossing used toilet paper in the waste basket. Even though it is now a part of my daily life. The Chinese also use toilet paper like a paper towel or tissue to wipe their hands and faces, especially at meals.  Recently in Beijing, when we were with a 3 day group tour and one of the days we were having lunch. The tables were very large and round, seating 10 people. Many Chinese dishes were placed on the large thick glass lazy suzy so everyone could have access to the food. At the end of the meal everyone started pulling varied sized rolls of toilet paper to wipe their mouths and hands. It was a moment where I wish I could have taken a picture or recorded short video. It was kind of humorous.

Don’t Drink That

Back home in the States when we normally go to a Chinese restaurant or any restaurant for that matter, we usually order some kind of beverage. Whether a soda, ice tea, hot tea, or water. There is always something to drink. Well, in reality so far in China, my experience has been that beverages are not consumed during meals. At least not in Restaurants. Hot tea is primarily drunk as a social beverage as opposed to a mealtime beverage.  You can special order something to drink but it is a rare thing to see people ordering something in a restaurant here. The times I have seen any beverage at a table it is usually beer. Chinese people love beer. And you have to request your beverage to be cold or otherwise it is served either hot or warm.  Chinese love hot beverages. Tai never drinks cold water and if she drinks a soft drink it is room temperature. Something Tai does that is so weird is she will add water to her soft drink. About 50/50. I don’t know if this is a standard Chinese thing to conserve how much soft drink is being used or if it is just  one of Tai’s many idiosyncrasies.

Small Health Update, Cultures Clashes, Where’s The Chinese Affection 

There are more I could share, but I tend to forget many things when I am writing. So as I add posts I will try to add tidbits of Chinese culture only discovered by living here. I apologize for such a long time since my last post. My fingers are pretty afflicted by years of tophaceous gout and has created deformities in my fingers on my right hand. I am left-handed, but this gout is slowly starting to affect my left hand as well. I have neuropathy in my fingertips on both hands and typing is a challenge. Sometimes I cannot feel how much pressure I am putting on the keys and many times I never pressed the key or press the wrong key not knowing I touched it. So I would end up having to go back and correct the errors. For example, typing the previous sentence I had to make over 20 corrections. Some are pretty quick, just hitting the back key and redoing, others a little more time to fix. So when I type it is now a slower process, but I will get it finished and posted.  I don’t get frustrated like I did at the beginning. It is in God’s hands and He is in control. And I look forward to the day He heals me in this life or the next. He has blessed me with the ability to continue to write even if it takes a bit longer. There are so many men, women, and children who have it far worst than I can ever know and it is especially gratifying to see them putting their trust in God. Forging ahead in life not looking back. l looked today on my website and saw that I have 763 followers around the world for my blog website. That blows me away and I want to thank everyone who takes time to read my posts. My posts are simple, not overly exciting, about two people who found love at the opposite ends of the world. And now I am living in China experiencing my version of Alice in Wonderland (Tai would not understand this reference about Alice). It has not been perfect but we strive to lift up the good over the bad. Cultural differences, language, and life experiences are obstacles we work on regularly. It hasn’t always been easy. Outside of telling each other daily, I love you, we use another phrase constantly. It is “Do you understand.” Not just in the words we spoke but in the meaning or jest of what we are trying to say to each other. Phrases we use in the United States have never been heard of here. Catch phrases, Southern gestures such as telling a friend you love them or calling them honey. Chinese, at least for some of the older population showing affection is not something they practice. When Tai’s mother and brother and sister visited there were no hugs or kisses. When Tai’s daughter visited, no kisses or hugs when greeting or saying goodbye. But for us in the South we hug, we kiss, we love everyone. Tai will not hug or kiss me in public but she will hold my hand (she likes doing that a lot).

Wrapping It Up  

So, this is a little insight into some of the subtle differences between our cultures. I am going to have at least two more post coming up pretty quickly. We made two trips in the last 3 months of the year and I have pictures to share and stories about our adventures. We celebrated out first year of marriage on November 3rd and there are more tidbits of Chinese life in Changchun. Until then take care (Bǎozhòng) and thanks for reading my story (Gǎnxiè nín yuèdú wǒ de gùshì).


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