Don’t Wear That Green Hat”–the post all about some minor cultural differences in China that can make all the difference in your social interactions abroad. To catch up on parts 1 and 2, simply click the links: Part 1 and Part 2.
Let’s begin: “不要穿那件绿帽子“＃3
#1. Honking. (No, not honkies)
This is my second one about something related to driving/traffic. I would say the driving culture here really is a lot different from in the states, so it deserves more than one category. Honking your horn in China is not really seen as something rude. It is more of a courtesy. The other driver is telling you ‘Hey, I am coming’ or ‘I am behind you’. Generally, it works very well. For the amount of cars and bikes on the road, it is impressive how many accidents there aren’t. It creates a noisy road, but it is practical. So, if you are in the States and you get honked at by a Chinese driver, they may just be letting you know they are near you. Or they could just be an angry driver who is mad at you. I’ve actually grown to appreciate the honk. Especially when I am on my bike or I am walking my children to school, it’s nice to know something is coming.
On another note, related to being on the road, but more closely related to the aspect of ‘WHOA, LOOK AT THE LAOWAI (Foreigner)’… I remember a funny story. One time, I was driving a moped down the road. I passed a person on a pedal bike on my right, and coming toward me was another person on a moped. Well, the bicyclist saw me and began to stare… as did the moped rider. Neither person looked away from me, the laowai on a moped. Then BAM! They crashed into each other. Oh man, it made me laugh so much. I didn’t help them either. Not because I am a big jerk, but because I didn’t want them to lose face. That is a whole other topic in itself.
#2. Don’t give a clock as a gift.
I generally don’t go around giving people clocks as gifts anyway, but in China, you should never give someone a clock as a gift. It is like wishing death upon them, or possibly someone in their family. The Chinese word 送钟 (send bell) sounds like 送终 (bury a parent). Both ‘songzhong’. So, if you have a Chinese friend who doesn’t talk to you anymore, ask yourself: Did I buy this person a clock? If so, you may need to make amends.
There are lots of words in the Chinese language that sound like other things and therefore are funny and/or bad luck. Like the number 4. (See what I say about 4 on #4)
#3. Men bellies.
That’s right, I said men bellies. The male midriff is a common sight here in China. During the summer time, it is very common for men to pull their shirt up nice and high to keep cool. It makes sense and is totally practical, but its not something you see in America. I see it EVERYWHERE. In stores/malls, on the street, on a bus… everywhere I go. Generally, they are men with more portly appearance. The shirts stay up much easier. The skinny gentlemen usually have to hold their shirts up. It just makes staring that much more awkward, a chubby, sometimes sweaty man, staring at you while rubbing his shiny belly. As far as practicality goes, I TOTALLY get it. Although I will not be embracing this aspect of Chinese culture. Yet.
#4. Number 4? NO! Thats bad luck!
Yes, I made this one #4 on purpose. The number four in China seems to be the unluckiest of numbers. So much so that, if you get a phone number with a 4 in it, I’ve heard they will actually give you a discount! (I’ve taken advantage of the ‘unlucky #4 discount’ in the past because I am a foreigner who has no connection to the #4. I’m not sure if they still do the discount anymore.) In Chinese, the number four 四 is pronounced si. It sounds a LOT like the word for death, which is 死 si. Some buildings in America do not have a 13th floor because it is an unlucky number. I have been in buildings in China with the same thing, although there is a missing floor #4 (not all buildings, but some).
#5. Squatty Potties.
This one isn’t really a ‘cultural tradition’ or custom or anything else. Many countries use this style of toilet. In the West, especially in America, this kind of toilet is unheard of. You would never imagine not sitting down at a toilet. You would also not imagine going into a bathroom that has no toilet paper. Thats right, you need to bring your own toilet paper with you when you go. The smallest things here seem to excited foreigners who live here. First, if you walk into a bathroom and it has a Western Toilet (WT), you feel like you just hit the jackpot! If said WT has its own toilet paper, you think you have just died and gone to heaven! That is one reason I love to go to Starbucks in the cities… they always have a WT w/TP. Out of all of the awkward stories I have accumulated over the years, many of these have occurred in a squatty potty. From there being no partitions and I had to squat next to a monk, to having to use my undershirt because I forgot my own TP. Good times. Some would argue that it is actually better for your body to use a squatty potty… they are probably right… but this big man does not like squatting.
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.