Living in China is an exciting experience for both foreigners and locals alike. In smaller towns like Huaqiao, where foreigners are scarce, the locals like to stare and even take photos of anyone who doesn’t look Asian. In three weeks of living in China I have been photographed on the street, in the grocery store and in a taxi.
The taxi driver took several selfies with me in the background and I was almost tempted to pose for him. It takes a while to get used to all the attention and it’s important not to get offended.
The locals are just curious and they don’t do in an offensive way. They also have no problem with you take photos of them Or walking around armed with a video-recording GoPro.
Locals here tend to be inquisitive and will often try to communicate with foreigners. They like to say hello but few can hold even a simple conversation in English – those bold enough will use a translator app to learn more about you.
Taxi drivers may even add you on WeChat, the Chinese equivalent of WhatsApp, that has a built-in translator in its messenger.
Not knowing the language has been a lot more difficult than expected. The Chinese have their own unique hand gestures for numbers up to ten, consider pointing to be rude and get confused by typical Western gestures. It was a huge wake up call to discover that what I always considered to be “universal” body language is far from it.
Luckily, the locals don’t make the same assumptions as we do – they understand that foreigners are not accustomed to their ways and they don’t get offended when you don’t accept money with both hands or if you point at the menu you want to order. Some assume that you don’t speak Chinese as soon as they see you. McDonald’s has a special picture menu that they will pull out to ease communication.
There are also cases when vendors won’t stop explaining things in Chinese while you look at them wide-eyed and shake your head. Even then, they usually just laugh. Learning basic Chinese words is a great idea, but keep in mind that they may not understand you if you have even the slightest accent.
So before you visit China, it’s a good idea to prepare a cheat sheet including any addresses (in Chinese) that you may need, photos of food that you want to try and get an icon T-shirt to communicate with anyone anywhere! The photo below is from Bored Panda.