As a foreigner or laowai living in China, I am constantly learning new things about Chinese culture, customs and traditions. Some things I find strange and hilarious, others are interesting and thought provoking. Several years ago, I assigned a cultural blog for my students to write. In this blog, they were required to write about an aspect of Western culture that they have learned about (mainly in their history classes or cross cultural communication classes, taught by foreigners as well), what they find interesting about that piece of Western culture, and then in turn they need to compare it to an aspect of Chinese culture. I decided that it would be fun for me to write about pieces of Chinese culture that I have learned in my 7 years living in China.
Keep in mind, I am in no way trying to put down Chinese culture or my own. This is just me mainly pointing out the interesting things I’ve learned or noticed over time, and some of the differences (many which are obvious) between my culture and theirs.
#1. It says it in the title. Don’t wear that green hat!
Well, this one is mainly for the gentlemen out there, especially if you are a married gentleman. Here goes the story (at least the way I heard it) summarized into my own words: Many, many years ago, there was a husband and a wife. The husband had to travel out of town a lot for his job. After some time, the wife started to have an affair with a tailor. She had the tailor fancy a green hat for her husband as a symbol. The symbol being ‘when my husband wears the green hat, that means he is leaving for business’. This went on for some time until people began to catch on. So, from then on, if a man wore a green hat, it meant his wife is being unfaithful. So guys coming to China, leave your green hats at home. Poor Luigi…
When titling this one, my wife asked ‘Facekinis? Are those the scary things?’ Yes dear… they are what nightmares are made of, darling. In the West, it is quite common for people to sunbathe, hoping to get that perfect golden tan. Being tan is actually considered quite attractive. Well, in China, it’s the opposite. Having lighter skin is considered more beautiful. It symbolizes wealth and a good job because you are not out in the sun all day. Darker people are usually thought of as poorer because they are assumed to be farmers who are usually out in the sun all day long. Anyway, in come the ‘Facekinis’ or ‘wetmasks’ Generally these terrifying masks accompany an entire body suit, so the person is basically covered head to toe in gear, which makes for a ‘scary’ sight to see. People actually wear these to the beach, and they are very popular. I have never seen one, mainly because I live far inland, and no one in the Henan province seems to know how to swim. (Sorry for the stereotype…) I still couldn’t hide if I wore one. My size gives me away. Growing up in Florida, I cannot imagine seeing a person on the beach wearing one of these. Anyway, these pictures make me cry a little… and I may not sleep tonight…
#3. On a more awesome, and adorable note, the elderly.
The elderly people in China are quite impressive. They are up early in the morning doing exercises, tai chi, dancing, playing games, signing loudly, etc. It is very impressive to see older people in such good shape. One time, I kid you not, I saw an older Chinese woman (possibly in her late 70’s… but Chinese people age so well… she could have been 436) walking along a sidewalk with a toddler. She tripped over the toddler, did a head tuck, somersaulted and then leaped to her feet. Now, this was a time when I thought all Chinese people knew Kung Fu, so this only corroborated my previous misconception. Looking back at that situation, that woman could have very well been Jet Li or Jackie Chan’s mother (or Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Grandmother) who taught them everything she knows. I have wikked (Boston slang for ‘an intense amount’) of respect for the elderly here (and the older generation in general). Plus, they are adorable. Like… really adorable.
#4. There are only two rules on driving in China.
These were the rules I assumed were in place when I first came to China. Since my first visit in 2005, traffic laws and regulations have changed dramatically. But these two rules were, 1 – Don’t get hit, and 2 – Don’t hit anybody. Now, this was never an actual rule, but it did seem to apply. Where stop signs and stop lights seem to be optional, and the double yellow line might as well just not be there, China is an interesting place to be in a vehicle. The way they flow through traffic at varying speeds, missing each other’s bumpers with what only seems to be fractions of an inch. In the end, it takes true skill to drive with such impeccable reaction speed. Although, put them in the states, and it is all down hill from there.
#5. On the day you are born, you are 1 year old.
This is an interesting idea to me. Basically in China, when you are born, you are one. This is interesting for someone like me, because I am born in November. The Chinese calendar year usually starts in February. So, with this custom, the day I was born, November 18th, I was one… and then about 4 months later I was actually 2 years old. So, when I was just a little 4-month-old baby in America, I was a 2-year-old boy in China. It is kind of crazy to wrap your head around. A lot of times, people will just ask what your Chinese zodiac is. By guesstimating how old they think you are, they may be able to figure out your actual age. It is kind of a polite way to ask someone how old they are. I am the year of the pig. That’s like… the best one.
Until next time, don’t wear that green hat!
Meet the author
Jonathan Watts is a Public Speaking and Oral English Instructor at Sias University. Jonathan studied Radio and Television Broadcasting at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach Florida, where he met his wife, Lee Watts, who is also an Oral English Instructor. Jonathan first visited Sias in 2005, and he immediately fell in love with Sias, China, and Chinese people (and of course, Chinese food). Jonathan and Lee are on their 7th year teaching at Sias, and they have a son, Harrison, who was born in China, and a daughter, Eloise. Jonathan enjoys playing bass guitar, ukulele, and singing. He loves taking bike rides around town with his family.