I often get asked what my three best tips are, when moving to China. And I could name more than 100 things that might be important and it is very difficult to break it down to three. But I gave it a try.
Disclaimer: There are tons of stuff you have to care and think about, when relocating to China. And the three following tips are not the gold standard. It’s just my opinion on the topic.
In this blog post you will learn my three most important things, when it comes to moving into the Middle Kingdoms
1. Cultural training for China
Speaking as a German China is as far away from Germany culture, behavior and day to day life as the mars from the earth. After 9 hours sitting in an airplane flying you step out into a different world. When first experiencing China in 2014 I immediately felt that nothing is the same in China like back home.
From meeting people, shaking hands, bringing gifts, giving and receiving face and many many more China is different. And don’t forget: When you come to China you are different too!
I only know and meet people that love or hate China. I met people complaining about China a lot and I met even more people loving China as much as I do. When you want to relocate to China make sure to visit China prior, try to work and live for minimum 4 weeks before you decide to move. When you made the decision book a cultural training or read books about China and how to behave there.
The first impression is as well in China the most important. You don’t get a second chance to make it better. If you don’t bring any gifts or wrong gifts (there are many wrong gifts!) you can’t give back, when receiving one. When you don’t know the concept about giving and receiving face you will sooner or later get into trouble.
Just one story about giving and receiving face:
While having dinner I once dropped some food on the table leading to splash some sauce onto a tie of a business partner. I felt very sorry and apologized a hundred times. I kind of lost my face, because I didn’t care enough on how to use the chopsticks. Just a few minutes later my business partner dropped some food on the table as well on purpose splashing some sauce onto my shirt. He said how sorry he was and that we are now equal. He gave me back my face and restored balance in our relationship. I must say, I felt a big relieve when he did it and I am very thankful for this behavior. He showed me his respect and released this sticky situation.
In China face is very important. Don’t mess with this concept and you will receive as much face as you give in return.
2. Being open, have patience and be flexible
Things in China can change quick. I mean, minutes or seconds quick. You should be flexible enough to change you plans 180 degrees within a few minutes. When you planned to stay in Beijing for 3 years and your company asks you to go to Shanghai – do it. If you planned a nice day off and an important customer wants to see you – see him or her. Flexibility is one of the most important skills you need to bring along when moving to China. Nobody want to be remembered what he or she did or said two days ago. Every day brings new possibilities and looks different than the past. When you sign a contract, he might be correct now. But maybe tomorrow conditions look different and may lead to change to contract. Remember: The guy writing this (me) is a Germany – Germans love contacts and stick to plans. But with that bevor you want make it far in China.
Another thing is patience. If you want to fly from Beijing to Shanghai and the flight is delayed for 4 hours accept it. What do you want to do? Discuss with airport staff that can’t do anything about it? Go to court? Accept the 4 hours and make the best out of it. Sleep, talk to people, listen to music, work, wander, be creative… One thing I learned from China and Taoism is to accept faith. Life goes on. Get over it!
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3. Learn Chinese now!
When moving you China you should make learning Chinese one of your top priorities. Why? Because you have a hard time finding people talk in English with you. Even when Chinese people have a good command of English, they might be afraid to talk to you because they could make a mistake and lose face. And why should Chinese people learn English? As a Chinese you can communicate with 1-1.4 billion people, just in China. China offers everything you need – mountains to climb and skiing, beaches to relax, cities to explore, landside wo wander and many more. As a Chinese there is no need to learn a foreign language. Of course a lot younger people learn English in school and understand and speak some, but these younger people are usually not the one you interact with. The seller in the shop next door might be mid aged, the street food seller could be your grandpa and the staff at MRT only deal with Chinese all the day. That’s why you should learn at least HSK 1 when coming to China for a long-term stay. It is achievable within few months and makes live 100000% easier. You will be able to read the menu at restaurant, how to speak with a barber, learn colors, understand numbers and a lot more day to day situations. And you will receive face where ever you go. Chinese people appreciate foreigners learning and speaking Chinese and will support you where every they can. Even when they struggle to understand you, they will be patience and cheer your efforts.