3 Unique Chinese Habits

November 3, 2015
chinese habits

Four months have passed since I moved to China, and the initial culture shock has subsided. Now, I even prefer a Chinese squatter toilet to a Western one! Still, a few Chinese habits continue to stand out to me. Here’s what to expect when you visit:


While walking around my city, Changsha, I discovered a small market. People hustled and bustled all around to find the best prices. Among the throngs of people, I swerved and dodged the crowds, attempting to take a picture or two.

Then, I looked up at the sky and down to my feet. Drops of what appeared to be water encircled my shoes. Was it raining?  Nope. It turned out that the people walking, driving, and flitting past had been spitting.

Spitting is a common practice in China and happens everywhere you go. I have found bodily functions to be less of a taboo in China than they are in America.

Now, my friends and I make funny faces at each other when we witness someone on the bus spit on the ground and attempt to wipe it away with the soles of her or his shoes. Rather than taking absolute disgust in it, I find it to be humorous. I am accustomed to the spitting sounds. More often than not, they don’t even register in my mind.

However, when they do, I find myself making up some sense of a cheer: “Yeah! You go man! Clear those sinuses! Way to clear that throat!” I giggle to myself and avoid the area of the evidence.

Lack of Personal Space

Be prepared to lose any sense of personal space when in China. This seems to be due to the number of people living here and the social culture.

Public transportation is a popular option for many Chinese; however, a bus can only fit so many people. Nevertheless, the bus driver and all occupants will try to fit one more person in no matter how packed it already is. Waiting for another bus going in the same direction might take hours! One time, we stuffed a bus with so many people that it broke down.

At the same time, the words “excuse me” are not commonly used. If someone needs to get around you, they walk past you and hit anything you happen to be carrying. I carry around a backpack, and I can’t count the number of times someone has slammed into it without an “I’m sorry.”

In one particular instance, I sat at a bus stop reading a book. I was engulfed in the text when a Chinese man walked up to me, stood less than three inches away, and asked where something was located. I jumped in my seat and took a minute to register that the man was asking me a question though I was clearly engaged in reading. I directed him to the proper location, and finished reading the chapter of my book. Ironically, the chapter was about etiquette as demonstrated through the Chinese language.

Screaming into the Phone

No matter what time of day, Chinese people will answer their phone as though they are trying to wake the dead. Whether it is seven in the morning, one in the afternoon, or ten in the evening, the Chinese always answer the phone with an extremely loud “WEI!?”

One afternoon, a friend and I grabbed some lunch outside of our work place. Less than five minutes after sitting, a local entered the restaurant screaming, “WEI!” into his phone. When he didn’t receive a response, he continued to scream “WEI! WEI! WEI!!!” After four attempts, he hung up the phone. By that time, my lunchtime calm had dissipated.

This occurs everywhere. It is hard to escape the thundering “WEI!” no matter where you go. Often, I feel included in the conversation (although I do not understand it) since every syllable echoes throughout the space that the screaming stranger and I both share.

These are just a few Chinese habits that have stood out to me. The most common have become regular occurrences in my daily life here. My foreign friends and I collect stories of such habits and share them over meals or during the late night hours. They serve as reminders that where we live is so fascinating, so different from where we came.

What are some Chinese habits that you’ve noticed?

Photo credit: Jonathan Kos-Read

About Alexandra Ehrhardt

Alexandra Ehrhardt moved away from the dancing streets of New Orleans to find a new group of dancing people in Changsha, Hunan, China. A Tulane University graduate with a B.S. in Cellular & Molecular Biology, Alexandra volunteers with WorldTeach Hunan as an Oral English Teacher at Zhounan Middle School. She struggles with basketball, loves to talk, and enjoys hanging out with the locals as they explain to her that there is still hope for her to learn Chinese one day. She is in love with her work and the Chinese culture, and she spreads the true meaning of what it means to be a New Orleanian no matter where she goes.

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