These tips will make travel to China more enjoyable

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  • Published on September 7, 2022
  • Last Updated March 10, 2023
  • In Tips

Avoid these easy-to-make mistakes and make use of these basic suggestions to enhance your trip to China.

A country with 31 provinces, over 300 languages and 7,000 years of history, China’s richness as a travel destination is both vast and deep. Between unlimited historical sites, cutting-edge fashion commerce, numerous and varied geographies, and a general culture of hospitality, its potential as a destination is endless, especially as COVID-19 restrictions relax in many cities. Still, China has some idiosyncrasies that can fluster visitors, from a foreign language system that seems impenetrable to high context (read: subtle) cultural customs that seem inscrutable, making travel mistakes easy to stumble upon, causing frustration and discontent. Preparing for your visit with the following common mistakes in mind can make for a more open-door adventure that brings a greater appreciation for the country to your experience.

Not learning any of the language

Many Westerners are completely daunted by the prospect of speaking Chinese, with its melodic-yet-monosyllabic utterances, unfamiliar cadences and seemingly inscrutable script. However, learning some key words and phrases will open up your visit in ways that should not be overlooked. Many Chinese restaurant menus are overwhelming lists of various combinations of dishes and knowing some key characters like “pork,” “beef,” “chicken” and “noodles” and popular, but unfamiliar, ones for the American palette like “claws,” “intestine” and “head” can make off-the-beaten-path dining experiences far more accessible. In addition, locals are often warmly surprised to hear a foreigner attempt the language and may offer greater hospitality for the effort.

Over-relying on familiar dishes/ignoring local delicacies

Every region in China has its own specific dishes that cannot be found anywhere else. People from a neighboring city may complain about missing the food from their hometown in a way that may seem strange to an American. Most dishes that Americans are accustomed to seeing on Chinese restaurant menus are inauthentic and were designed by Chinese restaurateurs upon arriving to America and realizing that their new customers tastes were formulated to different flavors. While many restaurants in China, especially those in tourist-friendly areas, have added these items to the menu, you will have a much more authentic experience trying out local delicacies as you move from city to city.

Ignoring customs

China has what is known as a high-context culture. This means acts that seem subtle to Americans are used to communicate things like respect, friendship, closeness, admiration and more. These customs can encompass anything from the seating position one chooses at a table to the gift one brings as a guest when visiting homes. While Chinese people will understand that Americans are unfamiliar with these customs, executing them properly shows a level of respect that will serve you well in trying to form relationships with local people.

Being unprepared for bathroom scenarios

While decrying China’s bathroom conditions is a common travel trope, this is not that post. In many ways, Chinese style toilets are more healthful than Western-style ones, as the squatting position is better for eliminating waste, and there are no shared skin-contact surfaces involved. However, it is important to know that it is common in China for people to bring their own toilet paper to the bathroom. It is also common that in less commercially developed areas, there may be no Western-style toilet available at all. Many times, the water pressure in Chinese toilets can be surprisingly strong, meaning that it is best to fully re-dress and step aside before using the lever.

This story was created by Detour, a journalism brand focused on the best stories in Black travel, in partnership with McClatchy’s The Charlotte Observer and Miami Herald. Detour’s approach to travel and storytelling seeks to tell previously under-reported or ignored narratives by shifting away from the customary routes framed in Eurocentrism. The detour team is made up of an A-list of award-winning journalists, writers, historians, photographers, illustrators and filmmakers.

This story was originally published September 07, 2022 9:00 AM.

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