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Five Things to Know about Chinese Culture

As a new au pair in China, it’s safe to say that you’ll be in for a few culture shocks! This makes China a fascinating, yet sometimes a little strange, place to live. Here are five things to know about Chinese culture that will make your first experience in China easier:

1. The Importance of Family

Firstly, family. In the west we all love our family dearly, but in China family really is at the centre of life. Chinese people exhibit a profound respect for their elders and it is common for the grandparents to live in the home or near the home of their child/children. There isn’t a large welfare safety net in China and so instead of living in nursing homes, subsequent generations are expected to care for their elderly relatives. Because of this, there can be a lot of pressure on children to succeed in school so that they can get a well-paid job and sufficiently support their elders.

2. The Education System

In China, the educational system is intensely competitive. It is very common for students in middle school to start their day at 6am and go to bed at 11pm due to their academic burden. All this is with the ultimate goal of performing well in the gāokǎo (高考), in which they have to compete against 9 million other students for university places. As which university they attend equates to what job they will have after graduation, their three-digit score will dictate the rest of their life.

3. Beauty Standards

You may be confused when your host mum asks, ‘do you want an umbrella?’, but when you look outside there is no sign of rain. In China there is another use for umbrellas: to protect themselves from the sun. In the west many strive for that sun-kissed glow but in China, and in much of Asia, whiteness is equated to beauty. Just as there are many bronzing products in the west, there are also skin-whitening products in Asia. The ideal woman projected by Chinese society is: bái fù mei (白富美: white, rich and beautiful) and interestingly there is no Chinese equivalent to the word ‘bronzed’ or ‘tanned’.

4. Chinese Food

China has amazing and incredibly varied food. Something that’s great about Chinese food is that, instead of limiting yourself to one dish as is common in the west, in China it is common to share many dishes with the family at meal times. In China, eating is a communal activity to be shared with the family, reflecting the importance of sharing time with the family.

Another thing to note is that some varieties of Chinese food can be pretty spicy. If you don’t like spicy food then the phrase ‘bù là’ (不辣) is very important for you to learn!

5. Directness

You may have noticed that Chinese people often exhibit an alarming openness when asking questions. There are many stories of Chinese people asking foreigners about their earnings or commenting on their looks. On the other hand, when it comes to confrontation, Chinese people will often go out of their way to avoid directness and instead give the facade that everything is fine.

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