Almost any country has its more or less black legends. Without mentioning the stereotypes, that “in Spain it is always warm” or that “in Thailand they put drugs in your suitcase” is something that everyone has ever told us; it is true that legends usually have a basis of reality, either because what happened was once isolated time and was generalized later, or because it was something that used to happen and stopped doing it. If there is a country that takes the cake in terms of legends, that is China, and it is for the second reason: there are many things that until recently were true and no longer are, or at least, are not so much as before. We list them and confirm or deny:
GASTRONOMY AND RESTAURANTS
- They eat insects. There will be whoever eats them, but as for the general population, flatly no. If you want to eat them, you will have to look for them a lot, since at present there are not even fried insects stalls in tourist areas of the big cities.
- They eat animals like frog, turtle, dog and donkey. It is true, they do eat them, although dog and donkey are not usually in the menus of most restaurants because eating them is a very rare practice. Frogs and turtles can be seen frequently alive in aquariums along with fish in many restaurants where we can choose the one we want. But boy, frog legs have been eaten in Europe for ages.
- Food is spicy. It’s also true; In general, and in a large part of the country, most dishes are between a little and very spicy. Take into account that in some regions, especially the less touristy, although we ask by translator if the food is spicy and they say no, it is very likely that it will be a bit, even McDonald’s burgers will be spicy. If in a restaurant we ask for a dish and we say that we do not want it spicy and the next day we want to repeat it, we have to specify it again, since the first day we could have had prepared the dish without spicy because we asked for it expressly, and the next day if not we say anything, we will find that the aubergines that were not spicy yesterday do are today.
- In China diners sit at large tables next to each other even if they do not know at all. This will only happen if a restaurant is full, and before seating anyone at our table, usually the waiter will ask us if we agree; It only happened to me once in Hong Kong and once in Macau.
- Chinese are short and thin. That would be before. There has not been a single time when, with my 1.86 meters (6.1 feet) high, I was the tallest in the subway car, although it is true that tall people are usually under 40 years old and you can see really small elderly people. It is also true that they are generally thin; obesity so typical of the West is making its way, but slowly.
- And by the way, no, they do not look all the same. Although if you ask them, they will say that Westerners look all the same.
Chinese have a terrible reputation in the eyes of the world, which I hope this article will help change:
- Nobody speaks a word in English, and everything is written in Chinese.
- In the most common tourist areas, especially Shanghai, Beijing and Guilin (let’s not talk about Hong Kong where English is a co-official language), we will find facilities: in most restaurants the menu will be in English and a waiter will speak it; In stations there will be an “English speaking counter” or there will be an employee who speaks it, so that when we address them, the person who serves us will give their seat to the English speaker.
- But in rural areas or unaccustomed to tourism, the odd thing is to find someone who speaks a single word in a language other than Mandarin. This is extensive to the indications and menus in restaurants, so having a translator App on your mobile phone is essential.
- They are very dirty:
- Spit at all times and everywhere. It is true that they spit, but not everywhere or at all hours. This is a clear example of what happened before and now not so much. Education? Awareness? Something of that will be, but above all it has been because for a few years it has been forbidden; If they catch you, they fine you, and in China there’s a policeman in every corner, so it will not take long to fine you. This unpleasant custom was banned for the first time on the occasion of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and is now widespread throughout the country. Even so we will hear hawking and spitting at every moment, but there are many people who clear their throat and swallow it or spit in a trash bin, and of course that of spitting on your feet or doing it on the subway is over.
- Young children do not wear diapers and their pants have a slit so that they do their needs whenever and wherever they want. In this there is even more control than with spitting; what happened to my friend Silvia to have to dodge the pee of an infant in the subway has gone down in history. Those pants with the hole are still visible, but except in very rural areas, children wear diapers underneath.
- Public restrooms and those at hotels are terrible. They have improved a lot. In almost all public toilets in stations, large restaurants or shopping malls we will find WCs in the oriental style along with others in the Western style, which fortunately for us, Chinese people avoid. But do not throw the bells on the fly, especially in rural areas toilets can range from acceptable to filthy gaps, many have no door, and sometimes they do not even have walls, so if we are in an urgent need, we could to find ourselves squatting a meter away from a Chinese citizen who says “nihao” to us without the slightest physical barrier in between.
- They eat mouths-open. Most do not; like other aspects, it is associated with a low socio-cultural level, but it does happen, and when it is the diner at the next table, your dinner will be anything but pleasant.
- To this I take the opportunity to comment on something totally accepted in Western culture that is considered very impolite in the East: blowing your nose with a handkerchief. That’s right, so if we have a cold or allergy, we should try to be discreet. Now you know why orientals when they catch a cold get dressed surgical masks to go down the street; Yes, it is to avoid infecting others, but also to… you do not want to know what happens under those masks.
- They are usually very noisy. Yes, they are very noisy, we can not deny it, but less and less, which is associated with the increase of the cultural level. Drivers horn too often, but almost 100% of the country’s motorcycles are electric, which has greatly reduced the noise in the cities. In a high-speed train we will hear someone shouting on the phone and before or after we will find a teenager playing online at full volume, but usually it does not go beyond there.
- They push and skip the lines. It is also true, but they try to do it with dissimulation and little by little, and if someone calls their attention, they will be alluded to and rectified, so you do not have to be afraid to recriminate whoever its attitude, or even to put our arm in a barrier mode; You may not know how to speak Chinese, but some gestures are universal. And if you see that it is not enough, we can always apply “where in Rome, do as Romans”; personally, I admit that I found myself fond of pushing and overtaking on the side as if I was doing nothing when needed. This does not apply to moments of tension, for example that typical situation in the queue of a supermarket when a clerk opens another cash register and says “go through here by line order”… there they throw themselves like crazy.
- In general they are rude and unpleasant. Here we disagree widely. It is not a country of all nice smiles such as Japan or Iceland, you can find everything, but most of the people we have dealt with have been nice and collaborating, from hotel and restaurant staff, to bus drivers or people passing by down the street. Of course we have found more than one rude person, but for each of these we have found many more that have been extremely friendly.
- People will want to take pictures with you, it is as if they had never seen a foreigner. This also happened before, but to this day it is unlikely, although it is more frequent the less Asiatic we seem; those redheads with blue eyes would do well to arm themselves with patience, but others can go quietly down the street. In more than a month, they barely asked us for photos 4 or 5 times.
Those who think that these educational measures involve losing part of the authentic Chinese experience, are free to get a 18 hours train trip in a hard seat, ideally in the middle of the Golden Week, where they will find entire families screaming, children running, people eating chicken legs and spitting their nails, smoking, farting and everything that can be an experience worth seeing… for 20 minutes.
- Train journeys are endless. This has changed recently; 5-10 years ago there was hardly a high-speed train line between Beijing and Shanghai; Nowadays, high-speed trains reach hundreds of destinations throughout the country at more than reasonable prices (see the post GETTING AROUND IN CHINA).
- China is cheap. It is for almost everything, but there is one thing that is exorbitantly expensive: admissions to tourist sites, and it is not that there is a price for locals and another for foreigners. In the case of this, the following section comes.
- With a DNI, a driver’s license, a university card, etc., basically anything that has a photo, and saying that you are a student, you can enter anywhere paying half. Absolutely not; Many are the ones who have told me how easy it was to do this, among them my cousins Javi and Inma or my friends Kym and Tam, but as of 2019 you can forget to pass as students, unless you really are, be well accredited and being less than 24 years old, and even then you may not be accepted, claiming that the discount is only for Chinese students.
- There are many fake stuff at ridiculous prices. After reading what I am going to write more than one will give up going to China: there is no longer a quarter of quality fakes than what there was. The fight against piracy has reached the Asian giant in full, but there is no discouragement, there are still places to buy them. The famous Silk and Pearl Markets in Beijing are the best known and are still a point of reference for lovers of counterfeit branded products, sometimes with a quality that is truly equal to that of the original (I have a friend watchmaker who states that some counterfeit watches that people have brought him to repair are almost indistinguishable from the originals even for a professional); Still, before going, it is convenient to document yourself about the products you are interested in, and since there is now less supply but the same demand, we will have to negotiate hard, especially in the one of Silk, which has more tourists.