Whether you’ve been there and back again 10 times or are anxiously awaiting that call telling you it’s time to call your travel agent, you can feel very much a foreigner in a foreign land.
As we’ve been those foreigners, there are a few things I’ve learned along the way that may be helpful to some of you as you ready yourselves to go and may help others smile as you remember your time in the place where your child’s story started.
1. In China, your new best friend is named Susan. She’s lazy but don’t hold it against her; it’s what makes her amazing. Nearly every restaurant has one of these twirly deals on the table. Expect to come home wishing you had a round table for your kitchen so you could get one of these for your own family. I’m still hoping for that myself.
(image thanks to Hannah)
2. In China, meals are about community, not efficiency. If you try to load up those little saucer plates set around your big round table at meals, you will feel like a giant…and look like a rude American. Use your chopsticks and take one bite at a time as your BFF Susan brings a dish in front of you. It’s totally okay to share dishes with your friends around the table. Stop being OCD about germs and just roll with it.
3. In China, hot water is a cure all. It’s sorta like Tylenol. It’s a wonder drug. Accept it. Drink it. Offer it to friends to be nice. Just make sure it’s boiled first.
4. Eating out of a plastic bag isn’t all that different than eating out of a styrofoam box. No need to squirm.
5. Spitting, loudly clearing your throat, slurping. You may not need to participate in these since bringing these habits home as souvenirs may cause you to lose friends and offend the family members you’re stuck with. But, in China, just expect these things. It’s all good there.
6. Mandarin and horn beeping are the national languages. Drivers beep their horns like some people bite their nails. I’m not even sure they know they’re doing it.
7. In China, lines are overrated. Why bother with lines? A crowd all moving in the same direction works just fine.
8. Yes means maybe; maybe means no; impossible means just don’t want to. Glad to clear that up for you.
9. Gift giving is the Chinese love language. They’re a big deal. And, when you give one, you’ll likely receive one. Just don’t open it right then and there unless you’re invited to. That’s rude.
10. Chinese is not a love language. They could be saying You are the most kindhearted person in the world and I love you and it will sorta sound like they’re yelling. Don’t assume everyone’s mad at each other or you. It’ll just cause you undue stress.
11. Do not ever buy something for the sticker price or you’ll end up making a shopkeeper very happy and pay likely 4x more than you should.
12. There’s a big difference between the way you say Ma and the way they say Ma. Tones make a big difference in a tonal language, y’all.
13. Expect your allergies to bother you. Don’t have allergies? You suddenly will discover you have them after all. Bring nasal sprays and tissues (for more than this reason alone. #BYOTP).
14. Stock photos are the bomb just as they are. No need to customize.
15. That word you are hearing over and over again is not the N-word. Ni ga is the Chinese version of ummmm.
16. Why do the Chinese have the corner on the holiday market? I wish we all had as many holidays as they do. I think we’d be a lot happier.
17. If it has a collar and buttons, it’s a perfectly acceptable outfit. I so wish we had the same fashion freedom at home that I feel when I’m in China.
18. Outdoor shoes worn indoors? Are you kidding me? It’s barbaric to even think of such a thing.
19. Pa-pa-pa papparazzi complete with peace signs (that don’t actually mean peace, by the way, but V for Victory). Your face likely will be all over QQ and WeChat before you step foot on American soil again.
20. In China, friends walk arm in arm. If you’re ever there serving on a team with me, I will take your arm. And, I will say something about how I totally wish that was the norm in America. Just expect it…and everything else here.