One of the main reasons I love travelling and living in different cultures is that it is the only way to really get an unbiased view on a country and its people. Every other source we have is biased by stereotypes and prejudices. Even the foreign people we meet in your country are a biased source, since only certain kinds of people go abroad.
So when I moved to China two months ago, I was eager to meet the locals and collect some first-hand experiences. Up to that point most of my knowledge about Chinese had been solely based on stereotypes about China. Some of them I was sure weren’t true, like the stereotype that every Chinese knows Kung Fu. Some stereotypes I wasn’t eager to explore further, like the one that Chinese men have small penises. But a lot of other prejudices that I previously thought to be true turned out not to be. Here are the three main stereotypes about China that I encountered and disproved.
Stereotype about China #1: Chinese people are shy
I made the experience during college that a lot of Chinese people seem reserved, shy or even socially awkward. I assumed that this is just due to their culture and upbringing and assumed a country full of people like that when I moved to China. This however couldn’t be further from the truth!
Being a teacher here, I see how the children are being brought up and they are just as loud and open as children in Europe or the US. They are extremely curious and particularly interested in foreigners. They never hesitate to greet me, ask where I’m from and start random conversations with me. And this is not an attitude that only children have: most of the people I meet on the street greet me, wave at me or smile when they see a foreigner like me. While their English often isn’t good enough for lengthy conversations, that never stops them from trying to meet me. When I go out I constantly get invited for drinks or to sit at their table. Last Saturday I just went out for a quick bite to eat and ended up sitting with a group of about ten Chinese for two hours, who at the end even insisted on paying for my meal.
Chinese can be incredibly warm and welcoming people, especially towards foreigners. The reason that many Chinese people abroad might seem a little closed-off is probably due to two reasons: first of all, the culture shock for them must be immense. This includes speaking English, which is something that many of them are not capable of when they first leave China. And secondly, studying abroad is a privilege for the top students, which means that they probably spent a lot of time studying in their teenage years and might therefore at first have a lack of social skills when it comes to college activities like partying, dating etc.
Stereotype about China #2: Chinese people cannot drink alcohol
I came to China thinking that Chinese people don’t know how to handle their booze. I expected them to pass out after two or three beers. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Chinese drink A LOT! When they go out, alcohol is an inherent part of their night. May it be at the restaurant, in a bar, in a club or at Karaoke, there is always alcohol involved. A normal thing to do here is to just order a lot of beers in advance: sometimes two people go to a bar together and order ten beers at once when they first sit down so that they don’t constantly have to re-order. This beer is then drunk from small glasses that are emptied like shot glasses in one sip and then immediately refilled to repeat the procedure. I have also met groups of business partners and work colleagues that went out together and easily emptied several bottles of liquor over the course of a night.
It is true that some of them might be in pretty bad condition at the end of such a night out, but this can most likely be attributed to the fact that they are just smaller and lighter than the average western guy. It is definitely not because they are inexperienced with alcohol.
Stereotype about China #3: Chinese people are bad drivers
This stereotype is a tricky one. Yes, I have to admit, the way that Chinese people drive is pretty crazy. They don’t care if they overtake you on the left or on the right. Hell, they might use the emergency lane if they have to! The cut in front of you, they ignore right of way and other basic traffic rules and traffic lights are more like suggestions to them than actually something that is obligatory to follow. People are speeding in the city, they scream and curse at each other and constantly use their horns. On my first day, a colleague told me “In the US, we use our horns to warn someone. Here in China, people use their horns to let people know that they are about to do something stupid.” That sums it up in a nutshell.
Having said all that, I am amazed by how few accidents happen here! With all these cars, and people driving those cars that often have not been properly educated on how to do so, with countless scooters and pedestrians and bicycles everywhere, with people driving on the wrong side of the road, with trucks that simply don’t stop at red lights… with all this constant chaos around it is a miracle that accidents still seem relatively rare.
Someone who regularly drives a car here without having been killed yet has to be a good driver! The definition of good drivers is simply different: in China you are not a good driver if you follow the rules, but if you manage to survive even though no one around you is following them!