There have been many posts by expats talking about habits they picked up, things that have changed since they lived in China. Most of them though are living in an expat community, or in an international university, and in a bigger city.
If you live in a foreign country for a longer time you cannot help it. The new customs, behavior and habits just stick; sometimes to the point where you start adapting, maybe unconsciously. There are a few habits I picked up while living with my parents-in-law. Some of them might not be totally unique to rural China, but they definitely are very prominent there.
1. Hot Water is King! Yes, hot water. The magic cure for everything! When I lived in Shanghai I knew that Chinese people prefer hot water over cold, but I never thought it was THAT important. Living with my mother-in-law showed me otherwise. No matter what you have, a cold, a headache, even a real infection, she would make me drink hot water. I don’t know the scientific proof of hot water as a remedy, but I am sure it does make you feel better. I will never change back to cold water. Hot water is now one of my favorite beverages.
2. Invitations are totally overrated. There are no invitations where my parents-in-law lived(except a wedding invitation, and even that one is handed out a week in advance). Usually people just pop in whenever they feel like. We might be in the middle of our dinner when one of my father-in-laws brothers would come running in to tell us we have to have dinner with them tonight. Everything is prepared, people are waiting. Well… ok. I got used to the spontaneity so much now, that I cannot stand making appointments weeks or months in advance. But for some things it’s just hard. Germany is no village, and people have commitments.
3. Silence is Not Golden. Some people, especially my mom, accused me of talking too loud every time I come back from China. Yes, it might be true. Restaurants are very loud in China in general. But no one will ever reach the high pitched voice of my mother-in-law. Imagine. And then multiple. And you might have a feeling of how loud it was in our house when she had her weekly Mahjong afternoon. If you don’t adapt to the noise level, no one will hear you.
4. Hello Stranger. Every time we go out, Jin would just start chatting to whoever was standing next to him. Once an elderly man in a bike stopped right next to us. He got off his bike and started slowly working with us while talking to Jin in a friendly voice. They chatted about the market today and about a lady I have never heard off. I asked Jin who the man was. Shrugging his shoulders he said “Don’t know. Never saw him before.” Something like this was happening all the time. After I realized it’s just the way, I tried the same. Being a foreigner and all the effect was insane. But being back in Germany trying the same… well, that didn’t really work out. People would have this freak-go-away-face-expression.
5. Pajamas and fluffy house shoes. Have you ever tried to go to the bakery or grocery store in your pajamas and house shoes? Well, I did once in Germany… and regret it the minute I stepped out the house. It’s just not the same. In Niuji, where my parents-in-law live, it’s is so normal to be in your pajamas all day long. Especially during winter. You have those big fluffy outdoor pajamas. They have pockets and keep you extremely warm. And is everyone in every age group, male and female alike, are wearing them, there is no need to be ashamed.
6. Who needs sidewalks, anyway? There are actually no real sidewalks in Niuji. We always walk on the street. In the middle of the street to be exact. It’s not that there are no cars. On the contrary. There are a lot of cars, and busses racing through the village. But somehow everyone just walks in the middle of the street. Try that in Germany and you get screamed at or even fined. There are just some habits you should leave back in China.
7. Don’t take off your coat indoors. Yeah. That one. Something I got used to a while ago. As there is no heating in Niuji, we never take our coat off in the house, or in the restaurant. It is absolutely normal. People even have more coats than sweaters. I remember last year when Jin visited me in Germany, we went to a restaurant and he didn’t take his jacket off until I told him to. Having grown up there those habits stick even harder than it is in my case.
8. The perfect squat. Many people even call it the ‘Chinese Squat’. That has nothing to do with being racist. Squatting in China is something really practical. Most of the time you won’t find a clean bench to sit on when you are in the countryside. So why standing for hours if you can squat? Though, I would not recommend doing that in Germany, in a train station for example, while waiting for the train…
9. No firecrackers. No Party. Oh dear firecrackers. I despise you. Some people might think that lighting firecrackers is something solely reserved for Chinese New Year. Well, unfortunately it isn’t. In Niuji you hear firecrackers almost every day. Birthdays, weddings, funerals, business openings, everything requires firecrackers. Although I really don’t like them, I would not want to miss them as well. It is just something I associate with a celebration. I would actually love to light firecrackers at my birthday. But I am sure there are some rules in Germany prohibiting that.
10. That’s not standard Chinese. Lately, my Chinese teachers are very angry with me. Apparently, I don’t speak standard Chinese anymore (not sure if I ever did, though). Apart from all kinds of habits, the language is something else you pick up very quickly. My parents-in-law speak a dialect. And even though my husband tries very hard to speak standard Chinese, well, he just doesn’t. Sorry dear. Sometime I would realize that his grammar and words are dialect and tell him. But most of the time I just don’t know (and actually don’t care). It’s just when my teachers started annoying me with trying harder to learn standard Beijing dialect. Why? Chinese people understand me perfectly (most of the time haha).
There are more habits I picked up over the years. But those are the most visible at the moment. Some of them I have to shed while living outside of China, some of them I just keep because I think they benefit me (like drinking hot water). But even though we pick up habits while living in another culture and country, that doesn’t mean we forget where we came from. On the contrary, we also influence the other people. My husband has picked up so many of my habits that it scares me. But also my parents-in-law are not immune to me. Before I came they would never use salt for their tomatoes, cucumbers or corn (they use sugar instead). Now, they always have salt on the table, even if I am not there.
What are your experiences? Did you pick up any habits or customs while living abroad? Or do you think we should try to stick to our own habits and not adapt?
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