Facing Culture Shock in China

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Business man with the text Culture Shock in a concept imageChina’s growth as an economic superpower has opened up opportunities for several multinationals to set up operations here and bring their countrymen to run these branches. It is not surprising for local residents to now have expatriates working as colleagues in these multinationals instead of seeing them as just tourists. The centuries old culture of China that has remained unaffected continues to shock and intrigue expats as they try to assimilate themselves into the surroundings.


Greeting and acknowledging people in China – The usual practice of greeting people in China is putting a smile to those lips and bowing your head down in acknowledgement along with verbal greeting of “hi hao” and “nin hao”. Though shaking hands is not a common greeting among Chinese culture, they have started to practice it with their Western counterparts. To increase familiarity with each other, expats may get invited to their Chinese colleagues’ place for lunch or dinner, which is common practice in local culture to bring new people right into their social circles. Inviting people to each others’ homes is very rare in Western culture except among close friends but here, it is a common practiceto get to know each other in an informal setting.

Surmounting the language barrier – For most expats in China, understanding the local language and communicating with people unfamiliar with English is a big problem. The main reason behind this is that in China, besides Mandarin, several other local dialects are also spoken making it difficult for expats to communicate with every local person even with decent expertise in Mandarin. All sign boards are written in local language making it difficult to find directions on the road. Most expats usually prefer to stay around cities and avoid these kinds of problems as most locals inside city areas are well educated and can converse in English.

Common cultural shocks in China

  1. Westerns in general refrain from asking personal questions whereas in China asking about things like age, number of children, parents etc is a way of familiarizing themselves with you.
  2. Local people will feel offended if an expatriate colleague refuses invitation to lunch or dinner so it is advisable to reschedule for a more convenient occasion.

Do not criticize local food or culture in public when you are in China with locals. Rather you can highlight some good points and avoid discussing issues that you d

Jeremy & Jacquelyn Carman

Jeremy & Jacquelyn Carman

Founders of havingababyinchina.com, Jeremy and Jacquelyn have four children. The first three were born in three different hospitals in China and the last was born at home in the US. Jeremy and Jacquelyn created havingababyinchina.com in 2009 after they found little information for foreigners having babies in China. They love connecting with other foreigners having babies. Learn more about them on the about page.

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