Things that seem strange at first

An amusing retrospective of the cultural differences in China as experienced by Chesneys brilliant senior project manager and Chinese resident, Jamie Gregory


Things that seemed strange at first became routine over time. You adopt homing pigeon syndrome during your daily commute when you travel from A to B using stealth senses to overcome obstacles and strange occurrences within your surroundings without thinking. Step over pothole of death, shimmy around the man selling Nike Hair and Reebook trainers on the pavement, boogaloo over the zebra crossing where vehicles don’t stop, mambo in and out of the silent but deadly electric motorbikes that command the pavements whilst avoiding being kneecapped by swinging shopping bags hung from the handlebars – a motorbike matador! Finally having won sufficient time crystals throughout the labyrinth zones, I’m able to reach the crystal dome without breaking sweat or train of thought for my workday ahead. I once was stood in a queue at an ATM inside a bank when a duck casually walked in. A Chihuahua wearing knitted booties soon followed in hot pursuit chasing the duck around the bank. Not one bat of an eyelid occurred. When I use chopsticks in public it becomes a spectacle to the on looking crowds. Go figure.

Translation, interpreting, and communication are everyday challenges for a foreigner working in China. Not so much in the literal sense of translation, but more how we think and deliver thought and the nuances of facial expressions and body language involved. Being British, I feel that 99% of our humour is based on sarcasm and irony, with the remaining 1% left for when people fall over. Irony and sarcasm is thinly dispersed and scattered within Chinese humour. Mr. Bean is a sensation here.

Never rely upon Google translate – this gives you direct translation of words but not meaning or order. The Chinese language is structured differently to ours so you might find yourself being handed a donut in the wrong situation…..

When doing business you should avoid direct questioning or propositions. Drink Chinese tea, discuss the basketball player Yao Ming, admire the wisdom or compliment the shirt before arriving at the crunch. Never use chopsticks to impersonate a walrus during uncomfortable silences. Chinese business is concluded outside of the office. Karaoke and whiskey are not just the names of my neighbour’s ferrets, they are sometimes useful tools before the signing of a contract.

When using someone to translate important meetings, it is imperative to use someone that has effective intercultural communication skills. Finding that common ground between two people and cultures can make all the difference to the result and the future working relationship.

These photos were taken in a public toilet of a sign that had a misquote. Trying to explain to my Chinese friend why I found this sign and location amusing through the medium of mime and pencil sketching proved to be exhausting:

, Things that seem strange at first

China is a rapidly developing country. I admire how they work through difficulties in order to get something right. This is evident with regards to their economic growth and positioning. It is safe to say that daily obstacles and amusing occurrences for a foreigner will continue for some time. This is all part of the charm of living abroad in China as a foreigner.