I was reading a list of do’s and don’t's for Berlin written by the staff of the local magazine Ex-Berliner and thought I should do something similar with Beijing, having spent over two years living and working there. Not that it makes me an expert by any means, but think of this as a personal, highly biased list.
1. Always have business cards with you. Even if you don’t have a job, make sure you’ve got your contact information printed on a card as everyone will ask you for it. Having no cards and shrugging your shoulders awkwardly will be met with a puzzled look. Don’t forget to take and give business cards with both hands as if you’re giving a gift.
2. This took awhile to get used to, but there is no tipping whatsoever in China. Some of the more upscale restaurants will add in a gratuity for large groups, but everyone else just gets an hourly wage. I nearly got my hand slapped by a co-worker when I tried to leave a few extra kuai for a server at lunch.
3. Always bring an iPod or something to read if you’re getting into a cab in Beijing or Shanghai. Congested streets often prolong even the shortest of trips and Beijing cab drivers have a habit of listening to ear-splitting soap operas at all hours. However, if you’re interested in learning Chinese, you may want to listen to their soaps. You could develop an intense, true-to-life Beijing accent that way.
4. Learn Mandarin! Even a little! If you can make it past “ni hao” and “zai jian” (which every foreigner knows) to a slightly more varied vocabulary, you will change others’ perceptions about you, thereby gaining a modicum of respect. Most ex-pats I worked with had a much easier time even knowing a few words of Mandarin. Also, if you can’t speak at least try to improve your comprehension.
5. Always stay for tea. Maybe this is a more Southern cultural thing, but when we were visiting my uncle in Quanzhou, everyone would invite us over for tea. Try to make time for this as it’s considered disrespectful to decline an offer to hang out with someone in their home. Once you’ve had the tea, you’re free to come up with a thousand implausible reasons for why you need to leave.
(This one is extra, but necessary)
6. Don’t drink the water. Stay inside when the air is so gray you could stick a fork in it. The face masks only keep out a tiny bit of pollutants, so be advised they might not help you too much outside of a sandstorm.