To foreigners, China is known for its Great Wall, its greater food, and its giant population of people. Those on the inside, however, know that China is much more complex than that! Plenty of fascinating and hilarious experiences have resulted from tourists attempting to decode what makes this country so uniquely special. While some of their customs may seem odd to the average American (toddlers without diapers, a market to promote relatives for marriage, and rubbing blonde hair for luck) they are all parts of the vast and diverse culture that makes China so interesting to travel. These are twenty-five hilarious cultural situations that travelers have experienced while adventuring through China!
25. Crushed Row Of ATM Patrons
I’m waiting to use an ATM and I’m standing about 5 feet behind the person using it like any normal American would.
Another person walks up and stands directly behind the guy using it. Then another. Then another. Then another. Nutts-to-butts, no space between them.
I am now sixth in line for the ATM.
24. Real-Life Tinder Market
I visited Shanghai, and I stumbled into the Marriage Market.
There were hundreds of elderly parents with flyers with photos and resumes of their unmarried adult children milling about, trying to arrange matches. It was like seeing the floor of a busy stock exchange.
23. A Foot For A Foot: Cab Driver v. Cyclist
I once had a friend who had traveled to China with her family who told me a story where they were at a café one afternoon and were watching the cars on the street nearby. There was a driver of a car who rear-ended a guy on a bicycle and knocked him off.
There was a big clamoring around the scene until a crowd of people took ahold of the car driver. The bicycle driver jumped into the car and drove over the foot of the car driver as the crowd held him into place. The bike driver (who just drove over the one guy’s foot) got out of the car, thanked the crowd and pushed his bike away. The car driver (who just got his foot ran over) limped back to the car and drove away.
22. Earning A Career Through Table Tennis
I worked it is an IT manager for a college in Nanjing. My boss, who was Chinese, got his job because he was an excellent table tennis player. He knew nothing about computers but acted like he did to save face. He also made the same amount per month as me, but within a month was driving a new BMW, and was wearing a Rolex. Lots of kickbacks and corruption there.
21. Making Up The New Years Holiday
I worked in Shanghai. My colleagues told me I had to work through the weekend to make up for the two days off at New Years. I laughed. They were serious.
20. A Casual Stroll With A Pet Duck
In Shenzhen, I saw a woman taking her duck for a walk on a leash. Apparently this is universal, but at the time I had not seen it before.
19. A Sketchy Police Bribe In A Taxi Cab
I used to travel to China 4 times per year for several years for business:
I got into a taxi to go from a bus station in Zigong to a hotel. Right after picking us up, the taxi driver stops and lets a policeman come sit in the front seat. They proceed to discuss how much it would cost to get the driver’s friend out of police detention. The policeman calls his supervisor at the police station to negotiate the bribe amount while getting a finder’s fee himself for facilitating the transaction. I wasn’t surprised by the corruption but rather by how open it was.
Since I am ethnically Chinese, they probably thought I was a local and can be ignored.
18. Little Kids’ Lack Of Diapers
I traveled to China this past May, and I was shocked at the number of little kids who don’t wear diapers, and that they go to the bathroom right in the street or wherever they happen to be. We were in the Forbidden City on a very crowded day, and a little girl squatted down and urinated right in the middle of a crowd. Everyone acted like it was normal, and then people proceeded to walk through the puddle…
We also watched two men get into a fist fight in the middle of a crowded street because they had road rage. My teacher points it out like “Hey look! Those guys are getting into a fight!” like it was some sort of spectacle.
17. An Extremely Spoiled Girl And An Incredibly Misinformed Patient
There was this teenage girl whose family was absurdly wealthy to the point that this girl had never done a single thing for herself. She got kicked out of her host family’s house after a few incidents like trying to cook raw chicken in the toaster. The worst thing though was her lack of awareness about feminine hygiene. She, honest to god, had maids/nannies that would insert a feminine product for her, so she didn’t know how.
She asked her host mother to do it and refused to just be taught how to do it herself. When her underwear got sullied, she hand washed them and laid them on a white leather couch to dry, leaving diluted red stains on the sofa. My favorite part is that this girl with the education level of a 10-year-old was under the impression she’d return to China in 2 years as a medical doctor.
The other story I remember was a man in his 30’s who had that psychological tick where you compulsively pull your hair out. He had the most bizarre baldness pattern because he actually couldn’t stop himself from just plucking his own hairs. The school being worried about this, asked him if he’d been to a doctor. He said that he had in China, and the doctor in China told him that he was bald because he was feeling guilty about something and that caused his hair to stay just below his scalp. If he found out what he was guilty about and confessed, his hair would grow back. This was not an herbalist or a homeopath. This was an actual medical doctor in a hospital.
16. A Hilarious Makeshift Ski Slope
I stayed with many families of varying economic statuses while I was there. I made a comment about how much I enjoyed skiing at home to the wealthiest family I stayed with, and they decided to take me skiing.
The whole place felt like someone tried to describe skiing to them over the phone and they built the place based on that.
Notably: The place was set up so that the bunny hill with the magic carpet was on the bottom, the easiest run and rope tow was above it, and the “real skiing” was a lift above that. But that meant every single person who wanted to go to higher difficulty slopes had to go through the magic carpet first, and the rope tow too. I’ve never seen such a disorder mess, especially one that was trying to pass as a line.
When I finally made it up to the terrain park, it was the weirdest one I’ve ever seen. The moguls were roughly the dimensions of snowmen. The jumps were misshapen and one had a toddler playing on top of it, while his mother, who was wearing high heeled boots, watched from the side. It was like they had no idea they’re on a ski hill.
15. A Strange Buffet Of Hearts, Legs, And Brains
We got enough food to have a filling breakfast for four adults with plenty left over for ten yuan, or $1.67
I ate an entire pigeon, including its brain. I had cow lung, brain, heart, kidney… The weirdest dish I think was frog stir-fry. This wasn’t frog legs, this was just frogs cut in half and stir-fried with a lot of Szechuan seasoning. I also had silkworm cocoons, just living silkworms in the process of metamorphosis that you fry in some sesame oil. They tasted like pre-buttered lobster honestly.
14. Consistently Mistaken For Harry Potter
Everyone thought my 14-year-old son was Daniel Radcliffe, even though he was 5’9″ with very curly hair. This was when one of the Deathly Hallows movies was playing in Shanghai, and there were posters and stuff up in a lot of places. Every so often, people would walk up to him, point and yell “Hally Pottah!!”
13. The Ultimate “Put It On My Tab” Move
It was my first time in Beijing in 2010 and I went to a restaurant with a local. She invited me so I didn’t check whether I had enough cash. The place was huge and looked fairly classy, not a small family-run place in a hutong.
So when we finished and the bill came it was about 350rmb iirc, and apparently, the girl had only like 180. I was like oh no, oh no, oh no what’s going to happen now but she kept completely calm going like “um well I don’t know” which didn’t make me feel any better.
She tried to call a friend that she knew who lived somewhat close to the restaurant but she couldn’t reach her. I could throw in about 50 but that was about it. So she talked to the waitress for a while, gave her all we had and then we left. I was so confused. I asked what happened and the girl told me she could just bring the rest of the money another day.
I was completely stunned; usually, China is very competitive, people try to rip you off if you don’t pay close attention to many places. And here we were, getting away like this? The best part was when I asked her if the waitress wrote down her name and address or something, and she said: “yeah she got my last name”… like, just the last name, in a country where I feel like there are only about 10 surnames and they all sound like gong, dong, li, Zhang…
12. A Wild Throwdown With An Elderly Woman
I traveled to China about a decade ago, sometime not long before the Olympics, and remember a scene standing in line at the Beijing train station. I remember people on big microphones telling everyone to remain calm, stand in line, and be civil.
I was queuing for a ticket purchase in a ridiculously long line at the ticket booth. In front of me, a younger woman tried to sidle her way and cut in line in front of an older woman. The old woman started getting angry at the cutter. They started screaming at each other and out of nowhere the old woman dropped her shopping bags and went into a melee fury on the line cutter. I’ll never forget her viciously attacking this lady in a split second. When the crowd decided to intervene the young woman came out of the pile torn to shreds and bleeding all over the place.
The old woman just picked up her bags and got right back in line.
11. Funny Reminders To Evacuate The Escalator
I went to a mall in Wuxi, and at the top and bottom of all the escalators were these meme faces (Obama, Jackie Chan, various rage cartoons) and Chinese words. My girlfriend informed me that these were signs to watch your step getting on/off the escalators as, apparently, lots of people get sucked in and die/wish they died.
10. Beyond The Limit Of Eavesdropping
I’ve lived in the expat community in China for about 16 years. Ten or so years ago, one of my mom’s Scandinavian friends was talking on the phone in her native language. After the person on the other end hung up, they heard a Chinese person on the phone saying “next time, please speak English or Chinese.”
9. A Scary-Smiled Stranger And An Epic Terracotta Tomb
There was a beggar near the Shanghai waterfront that looked so deformed and scary, one of my fellow travelers cried. He looked like he had been in a chemical accident of some sort wherein his skin and bones melted into this deformed blob of weird proportions. The worse part was he had a smile on his face- permanently.
There was also the lady that shoved me and cut in line at McDonald’s. I was kind of taken back because she was so rude. My tour guide told me Chinese people hate Americans.
8. The Myth Of Lucky Blonde Hair
I went when I was little, about 5 or 6 years old, and I barely remember it, but apparently, everywhere I went, crowds would surround me and touch my head…
Apparently touching blonde hair was good luck or something.
7. A Super Strange, Pointless Game
I was on exchange at a high school in China and the kids decided to show me this game called aluba (ah-luba)?
This consisted of the boys in the class ganging up on a single kid and hoisting him in the air whilst spreading his legs apart. They then would run with the kid, still in the air with his legs open, at full speed into the side of a door so the kid would get his man parts smashed into oblivion.
The weirdest part is there were no hard feelings after. The kid just stood up and acted as if this was just a normal occurrence.
6. A Short-Lived, Semi-Clever Tourist Scam
I was in China and I was outside a tourist attraction. A woman dressed in a uniform was standing by the entrance telling all the cars that were passing by that you needed to pay money to go to a big part of the attraction. However, that part of the attraction was actually free and the woman wasn’t an employee of the attraction at all.
She was just a random person who was misinforming people and collecting free money. She was taking advantage of some tourists’ lack of knowledge of the attraction. Tour buses and tour guides who knew the attraction was free would just go right past her.
5. Attempt To Repopulate Pigeons Gone Terribly Wrong
My friend told me a story about his hometown. They’re a smaller city that wanted to show some sophistication by introducing pigeons to their city ecosystem (a very European flair). So they imported a bunch of pigeons and set them loose. Unfortunately, not a month later, the city stopped their initiative in shame because the locals managed to capture and eat all of the pigeons they had tried to introduce.
4. A Creative Ploy By A Tourist-Tricking Con-Man
My sister and I took the train from Chengdu to Leshan to see the giant Buddha. We had to use the bathroom when we got on the train and when we arrived the station wasn’t completed and there were no bathrooms. After a 25 minute bus ride to the park with the Buddha, we were close to bursting. I asked an old lady for directions to the bathroom and when my sister and I arrived there was an old man with a little table selling soap, toilet paper and feminine products set up in front of the facilities. As I walked by (I had soap and TP in my bag) his frail arm shot up and blocked my way.
“What?!” I said in mandarin. He simply held out his hand. I asked how much and he said “5 jiao.” which is the equivalent of like 75 cents U.S. I dig the coin out of my bag, tossed it on to his table and darted in to use the worst restroom I personally visited in China. I came out just as a tour bus of Chinese people pulled up. They filed in without interruption. I glared at the old man and said “Really?!” He simply grinned and shrugged his shoulders.
3. Fascination With Body Hair
The locals crowded around my significant other to gaze in wonder at his hairy arms. When he undid a couple of shirt buttons they went nuts!
2. A Horrifying (Literal) Rush Of Realization
I lived in China for a few years. I was on one of my first bus rides, and we went down a slight hill and I felt something warm rush over my feet. I learned the hard way that day that many babies/toddlers don’t wear diapers, and just have slits in the crotch of their pants. When they have to go, be it on the street, in a store, or on a bus, they just crouch down and let it flow.
1. A Side-Splitting Attempt At Western Christmas
Anytime you go into a bar in China and there is another white person there you inevitably make eye contact and eventually will talk. I met an Irish dude who had just come in from a more remote part of China. The hotel he stayed at tried to make the westerners there feel at home for Christmas (it was December). He knew they had it a bit wrong when the Christmas tree in the lobby had a Star of David on top and next to it was Santa being crucified.