Tips to get ahead in Beijing
As Beijing prepares for a large influx of Olympic spectators, Beijing-based blogger David Feng sets out some ground rules for foreigners new to the city.
Chi fan le ma? [Translation: Have you eaten?]
My top tip is to make sure that you learn some Chinese. Just a bit. Locals absolutely love it the moment you speak Chinese. The question chi fan le ma? is quintessentially Beijing. The Beijingers are more into eating than any other people I know. They go nuts over food. For them, few things are better than lunch. Say this phrase to your average Beijinger and you almost become a native yourself. It's the best kind of greeting and said in true Beijing style.
- Be prepared: you will be used for English practice
Beijing locals love outsiders. Not just foreigners - but people from other parts of China too. They say "Friends are coming over from all over the world - aren't you pleased?" In the remoter districts of the city, some people might get excited when they see a foreigner. Be prepared for people to approach you and practise their English.
- Small-talk can be blunt
Prepare for the bluntest of Chinese small-talk - even if you are a lady. In the West it is sometimes seen as a capital offence to ask a lady how old she is. In China be prepared to be asked how old you are, if you are married and if you have kids. If the small-talk gets interesting, they might disclose how much they earn and ask you to disclose the same! The Chinese are extremely open people and in China, this kind of privacy is a new thing.
- Stop! Look both ways!
In China a zebra crossing does not necessarily mean cars will stop for you. Some will but the great majority won't. So when in Beijing, don't assume that cars will stop for you at a zebra crossing.
- Smile, smile...
That's what the police are being told. Smiling police officers make your day, they say. I would say to the police, don't smile for the heck of it, smile if you're relaxed. A smile in China doesn't necessarily mean the smile is happy. If someone is confused, or nervous, they may well smile.
- No to Xiaojie
One word you should not use in a Beijing restaurant to get the attention of a waitress is xiaojie - which means Miss. In today's usage it has slightly pornographic connotations. Fuwuyuan - which is more like garcon - is the best way of addressing a young lady or a man serving you.
- Seek what unites
In the West I see books saying it is not a good idea to talk about politics or religion. I think the same goes for China. If you must go into politics, approach with caution. Many Chinese people are sensitive when talking about regions, countries and territories. There is a saying that many Chinese adhere to: "We seek what unites us and we let live what separates us..."
- When in Beijing prepare to get renao [Translation - hot and noisy]
Go to a karaoke bar in Beijing and you will find people singing, clapping, a lot of noise and people enjoying themselves. Beijing is renao in the best possible way. Even when old ladies go to the park, you can see them dancing and twisting around and beating drums and cymbals - that is also very renao. People know how to have a good time and this can also extend to clapping and cheering at the Olympics. So just have fun and enjoy Beijing!