China’s an amazing, wonderful place but it can be an uphill climb for first time arrivals in the country, here’s a few tips to making your visit or arrival an easier and more pleasant one.
Remember English is not widely spoken
While Beijing did a great job of preparing for the Olympics and many locals are now at least a little fluent in English, the rest of the country really isn’t. It can come as a horrible shock to the system when you realize that your taxi driver has no idea what you’re saying when you want to get to your hotel at the airport or that ordering a beer in the bar has just become an insanely difficult task.
Pro-tip: Get a Mandarin-English phrasebook with Chinese characters under the phrases, so you can point at them in times of difficulty. Always have your final destination and any stops between written down in Mandarin before you go, so that you can always find your way to your hotel in a taxi.
Grow a thick skin
It is all too common outside of areas where foreigners are regularly found, for Chinese people to point and stare and shout at you. Ignore it, it’s not meant badly, it’s just how curiosity is naturally displayed in China, they do this to unusual Chinese people too. It’s also pretty common for people to comment negatively on your appearance or clothing on first meeting, this shows that they care and is not meant to be offensive – let it go.
Pro-tip: If you find the attention overwhelming, do it back. Stop, stare and point – the offender will quickly get the message and stop. I like to wave and pretend I’m a film star on these occasions, which whilst clearly not the case makes me feel better.
Keep your temper
Never, ever lose your temper. Customer service is a non-existent concept at the moment, you will find yourself willfully ignored, cheated and generally abused by businesses at every turn. Do refuse to accept this, but don’t blow up – if your cool flees, you’ll lose face if you keep it and pointedly make life difficult for the person spoiling your day – they’ll lose face.
Pro-tip: Never get into disputes with front line staff, they have absolutely no authority to improve the situation if your initial complaint resolves nothing, immediately escalate to management who may (but not always) be able to get something done.