It has now been a little over two months since I have moved to Shanghai. I still don’t know everything there is to know about the city; and, no I can’t speak Chinese yet. Maps are my friends and there is power in pointing. I have certainly gone through a range of experiences and with these experiences, inevitably culture shock.
And, not the “Oh, they’re driving on the wrong side of the road culture shock.” I completely dropped myself into an entirely foreign place, with a new political system, social and moral values, new language… I seriously placed myself at a disadvantage-advantage. There were bound to be a few things that shook me and here are some.
*** Disclaimer: this is not meant to be offensive in any fashion ***
This is by far the one thing I still can’t get over. I can definitely say it was the most unsettling experience of my life. Dramatic? Maybe, but not entirely. Perhaps it’s because I happened to ride for the first time during the metro rush and— just no. People literally pack into the train like sardines. Even when it’s not rush hour, though, it’s generally crowded. It’s hot and people literally run you over and push—not shove (sometimes shove)—push you out of the way for a space or seat. It is a necessary discomfort when not having a car.
There’s No Rush
In restaurants that is. You can spend the entire day in a restaurant and no one will ask you to leave. This was especially handy during the time I had no Wi-Fi. Now, as a courtesy, don’t just go in and sit. Be a paying customer and at least order coffee. The waiters and staff are very chill in pretty much every restaurant I go to. You only have to hunt down a waiter for your bill, because they are really not worried about you getting up and leaving. Also you have to call out for your waiter, which I’m still having trouble with.
Pedestrian Does Not Have the Right of Way
Not. At. All! You are crossing with bikers and scouters, while bobbing and weaving in between cars and buses. And it does not matter if the crossing light changes to green. Cars, seriously turn into crowds of people in the crossing lane and people part around the car like it’s okay to get nudged by this truck. You better wait a few seconds before you think you can just cross. But people also cross on red too. There’s a countdown to let you know when the light will change and on five seconds to change, people are already crossing. I’m not there yet. I plan on making it across the street.
Space, Smoking, and Spitting
A triple whammy this one is. There is smoking and spitting everywhere! I was sort of prepared for the spitting because I had already been warned, but actually hearing someone cough it up and then spit… I throw up a little bit on the inside. (And I would do that no matter where I am, states or Europe. It’s a reflex). The smoking I was not prepared for. I am still surprised by the sheer numbers. Allergies and smoking does not mix. Lastly, personal space is non-existent in public. People will get up on you, cut in front, and bump you without trying to avoid you.
Sweets are Everywhere
Another favorite. Of course the food is great here. I love trying new foods every day, but the sweets! I have a mad sweet tooth and having so much access to pastries, cookies and cakes is probably not a good thing, especially since they are so well priced. I did not expect to find so many bakeries. They are in malls, metro stations, and almost every street. And the best part of there being so many sweets are that they are mostly light. So, if I sneak a cake (slices) two days in a row, I don’t feel too bad.
This is a small thing, but it is among my favorite things so far. I can get fresh juice nearly anywhere with every meal. And I’m not talking about fresh out the fridge, or 100% bottled juice. No. I can order any juice—orange juice, apple juice, strawberry and banana, pear—and watch it go through a juicer or blender, see it get poured in to a cup and handed to me.
If you’ve traveled to China, specifically Shanghai, did you share these impressions? There are certainly more, but these were higher up on my list. Maybe you’ve traveled elsewhere and experienced similar situations. Share your experiences with culture shock below.