Saturday, July 30, 2016

A Woefully Incomplete List of Little Cultural Nuances That Might Be Useful To Know in China/Tibet

- if your bus ticket has an assigned seat, it usually matters. Just sit there. If your seatmate is loudly coughing and loogying into a plastic bag, I mean, at least they've got a bag.

- sometimes, people will ask if you have ¥1 extra to make change easy. For example, if it costs ¥81 and you pay with a ¥100, they'll ask if you have 1. "Yi kuai?"

- similarly about ¥1 notes, public bathrooms usually cost ¥1. Even if there's nobody there, when you come out, someone will have appeared to collect ¥1. It's useful to have ¥1 notes handy.

- however, change is not usually a problem. The ATM gives you ¥100 bills, which are worth about $16, so even if you're buying a bottle of water, people can usually make change if you're out of small bills.

- people count on their hands in a different way. I guess it's more efficient? But I usually just don't know what number they're telling me. I have figured out that two index fingers crossed like you're warding off a vampire is "10".

- one thing they may ask you in a restaurant is if spicy food is ok. If they're asking you something and you can't tell what they mean, listen for the syllable "là" which means "spicy."

- another thing people will ask you way more often is where you're from. My Pimsleur tapes didn't include this, but I've noticed that it often includes something like "na li." You can just say "Mei guo" (or "America") and everyone will be happy. Then if you ask them where they're from, they will say "China" and look confused. Like, isn't it obvious? They'll usually tell you what city if you keep asking questions.

- A common greeting is something like "have you eaten yet?" I don't know what the polite phatic response is, so I just answer truthfully. I don't know if this makes people uncomfortable.

- In a restaurant, if there's a menu, the waiter will usually bring it over right away and then stare at you while you try to decipher it. This can be unnerving. There are a few good solutions: if there are pictures on the menu or the wall, point; if it's a place that obviously serves one thing and you know how to pronounce it, do that; point at other people's food; point at a random thing on the menu; (hard mode) ask "ní kēyī shénme tuíjiàn de?" which is close enough to "can you recommend something?" that they'll usually pick a thing for you. Then nod vigorously and say "ok" a lot.

- there will be no cold drinks with your meal. Maybe hot tea. Your options here: deal with it, drink beer, (sometimes) bring your own drink. I'm not sure when it's ok to BYO; maybe always? Whatever, just try it.

- drivers honk all the time. It's nothing personal. Unlike in the US where a honk means "get out of my way and also you are bad", here it just means "get out of my way" or "coming around the corner, look out" or "I am frustrated" or "hello I am here" or "my car is hooked to a bomb a la Speed and I have to honk every five seconds or it will explode, sorry." Still better than India.

- cross the street aggressively. Cars will not stop for you. If you're really stuck, find a local also crossing and walk right next to them.

- speaking of taking things personally, a Tibetan sticking their tongue out at you is a greeting, not an insult. On the same note, I've found Tibetans laughing at me a lot, which I think is not a greeting but is still more cordial than most people laughing at me. Also, I think I do a lot of dumb things.

- ATMs are in most cities. Some of them will work with your card. Rule of thumb: the bigger it sounds, the better. Bank of China, ICBC, or China Construction Bank: good. Anything with "rural" or "agricultural" in the name: bad.

- If someone, like a hotel person, gives you a receipt, hold on to it. Sometimes they will ask for it later. I am not sure why, or what happens if you threw it out.

- Tibetan guard dogs are super mean. But don't run from them; they will chase you down. Instead, look real imposing, throw a rock at them, or mime that you're going to throw a rock at them. I mean, that's the advice I've gotten; I think the real thing is, don't run into a Tibetan guard dog who's not chained up.

- Linkin Park seems real popular. Particularly the "Minutes to Midnight" T-shirt.

- "Supermarket" usually means "department store."

- people, especially kids, will say hello to you a ton. Unlike in some places, this will not lead to a hassling. At worst, you get a 3 line conversation: hello, where are you from, what is your name. (Disclaimer: I'm a dude, not sure what ladies experience.)

- it seems like lots of workers have some kind of meeting or assembly at the beginning of their shift. You may see them standing in formation with a boss-looking character in front. At one point, I even saw a group doing a dance. If this is what it takes, I could never be employed in China.

- in any fancy cafe, you have about a 50% chance of the music being low key singer-songwriter heartfelt acoustic covers of songs that maybe sound better in the original? Like, there's Blackbird and stuff, sure, but also Billie Jean and Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.

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