Five culture shocks you might not expect in Shanghai

There are the really obvious culture shocks you probably knew about before coming to Shanghai, But there are some others that are a little less expected and might even change you!

There are the really obvious culture shocks you probably knew about before you came to Shanghai, like the sheer volume of people and the mountainous language difficulties.

But there are some others that are a little less expected, and they might even change you!

This week I’ll talk a bit about five of them and try to explain — at least from my own understanding — what they mean.

Drinking hot water

Chinese people love to drink hot water, in fact they swear by it. There are a number of reasons, one of the main ones being the idea that drinking warm water aids digestion (and cold drinks slow the stomach down).

It is also said to help blood flow, control appetite and help you recover speedily when you’re sick — in fact, often people’s only advice when you’re feeling down will be to drink plenty of hot water (duo he reshui).

Boiling water is also a necessity when drinking tap water in China.


Many Chinese people love to drink hot water and often advise others to do so as well.

The floor is ‘dirty,’ even in your own home

Back home I had no qualms with getting undressed and dropping my clothes on the floor or chucking my blankets on the ground while I’m changing my bed sheets.

Having lived in China for a few years, that idea now seems unfathomable! For Chinese, the floor is considered filthy, even in your own home, and most won’t even place their bag on the ground.

Guys holding their girlfriend’s/wife’s handbag

This is one of the cuter culture shocks that I discovered the first time I visited China, and one that still makes me giggle today.

If you go anywhere where people are, it won’t be long until you come across a guy carrying a girly handbag — you won’t need to look far to find his girlfriend or wife nearby, usually with absolutely nothing in her hands.

Men in China don’t seem to suffer from the same debilitating masculinity issues many in Western countries do, where a woman’s handbag would be considered 150 percent off limits.

I asked a couple of girl friends about it and they were surprised I thought it was a thing, telling me that it’s just something their guy needs to do. They said it’s also a good way to show the world that their guy is taken!


Men carrying their partners' handbags is a common sight in China.

Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

People calling you handsome or pretty (probably) isn’t a come-on

When I first started learning Chinese, I found it quite interesting — and sometimes confusing — how people would randomly address me as “handsome guy” (shuaige).

One time, at a bar in Changsha, Hunan Province, a guy came up to me and asked if I would join him for a drink. “You’re so handsome,” he told me about 50 times. I was sure he had something in mind until he started showing me pictures of his girlfriend.

People will also address random women on the street as “pretty girl” (meinu) without any ulterior motive.

Getting used to this culture shock quickly is quite useful, and will save you from embarrassing situations.

Staying at home when you’re sick might be a weakness

Back home it’s considered quite rude to go to work when you have the flu, for example, because you’re considered contagious and risk passing on your runny nose and cough to everyone breathing the same air conditioning.

When I started working in China, I soon realized things were a bit different — people still tend to come to work coughing and spluttering.

When I caught the bug recently, I decided it was best I stayed away, so I asked my boss if I could work from home. After telling some friends I was quickly told that it might not have been the best idea since going to work sick is a sign of how passionate and hard working you are.

Conversely, calling in sick can look lazy and weak. I can’t win!

Living in a completely different culture is both exciting and terrifying, but I don’t regret choosing China for a moment.

Culture shocks are all part of the territory, and learning that people all over the world view some things completely differently is not only fun, but thoroughly enlightening.

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