Cultural Differences Between China and the Upper-Midwest (Hint: There are Many!)

Adam Dalton
March 15, 2015

March 15th 2015


              My past few blog posts have centered on isolated (albeit memorable) adventures during my time in China.  To keep things “fresh” on the illustrious forum otherwise known as my blog, instead of writing the usual story this week I will riff on cultural differences between the Upper-Midwestern United States and Shanghai, China.

Line Etiquette (or Lack Thereof)

                In the Upper Midwest there is no more grievous offense than to blatantly cut in line without so much as an acknowledgement that due to your offense, you are probably the worst person to have ever lived on the planet Earth. If you want to get into a line you either patiently enter in the back of the line or ask politely for someone to let you in (which then obliges you to let someone else in at a later time if they ask you). However, in China all the niceties I have been taught by society regarding lines have been smashed to smithereens. During my first couple of weeks, whether it be boarding the metro, ordering at the Jiao Tong University cafeteria, or waiting at some other location, I would politely enter at the back of the line, give a polite “soree” to anyone who bumped me, and then stare passive-aggressively at everyone who cut in front of me hoping to elicit some response; but the aforementioned method was not only confusing to the Chinese people around me, it was hilariously ineffective. Many times I missed a train, lost out on a food I wanted to order, or had some other “tragedy” happen to me because of my “ethics” regarding lines. From this day forward while I am in China, I will adopt the Chinese method of lines (that there are not any lines, ever…) so as to not miss out on anything I want to do due to my “niceness”.


                Man did bargaining throw me for a loop. In America, 95% of the time when you are shopping there is no bargaining involved, you simply go to a store and buy whatever product you feel best suits your needs for the price listed. In China, at basically any location that is not a modern chain store (or restaurant) you are expected to bargain for the price of whatever item you want to buy. For example, yesterday I saw a man attempting to bargain for a lower price when purchasing a ticket for admittance to a national monument (albeit unsuccessfully, I don’t think that people generally try to bargain at a place like that…). The first time that I attempted to buy an item (an umbrella, it was raining cats and dogs), the seller came at me with a most unreasonable offer and I was very confused. It was only after my Chinese language partner came to explain that the initial offer was not to be taken seriously, and that the seller was looking to bargain, that this so-called “bargaining system” began to click with my sensibilities. In the following weeks I have gotten somewhat accustomed to bargaining and will hopefully be able to use my newfound skills back in the states to achieve awesome outcomes such as: knocking a bit off of the price of a used car or selling items for a slightly higher price than I would have received before I acquired bargaining skills.


                In China silence is golden. Whether it be on the subway, in the cafeteria, or any other public place, people are generally extremely quiet compared with what I am used to in America. When my fellow IES students and I enter the absolutely packed subway in the morning we are generally the only people who are talking, everyone else is either reading, listening to music silently, or most commonly, doing something or another on their phones. It is extremely bizarre to me to be in such a busy public places and be treated to absolute silence, in fact I would say from an American perspective the silence feels eerie and ominous; it feels as if everyone has an explicit reason for being silent and we are breaking some sacred code by being the “obnoxious people” who are not abiding by the silence norms.

                These are just a few of the cultural differences I have experienced so far, and for the sake of keeping this blog somewhat succinct, I will stop on this note. Next week I am planning on doing a Chinese food review blog in which I will review interesting Chinese foods I eat in the next week (hopefully accompanied by pictures).

Until next time,

Adam Dalton  


Adam Dalton

<div>My Name is Adam Dalton and I am currently a junior at Grinnell College majoring in Economics and Chinese Studies. I am originally from Mason City, IA and will be studying abroad in Shanghai with IES Shanghai next semester. Aside from academics, my interests including playing guitar, enjoying the great outdoors and running (I am a member of Grinnell&#39;s T&amp;F and XC teams).&nbsp;</div>

2015 Spring
Home university:
Grinnell College
Chinese Language
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