Things That Seem Like Clichès (But Aren’t…)

“You are English. You like beer and football, yes?”


As mentioned in a previous post, the racial clichè that Chinese folk swap the ‘r’s and the ‘l’s is utter bollocks (although in my experience, a lot of people have trouble differentiating ‘v’ and ‘w’, and the phonic /th/ can be difficult for some children). There are, however, certain things that seem kind of ridiculous but are absolutely true.

For example:

People really do squat.
In England, the idea of waiting for a bus in the ‘Frogger’ position is kind of laughable, but a surprising amount of people will sit in a squat as a way of relaxing. In the park, in the street…

…Yes, even there.
My first experience of Chinese public toilets came unfortunately soon after my first (and last) experience of ‘smelly tofu’, an ingredient so foul that no one has even bothered to come up with a euphemism for it. The term is a literal translation from the Chinese for ‘smelly tofu’.

Like China itself, squat toilets are a fusion between ultra-modern tech and medieval wtf. They flush automatically and are usually cleaned by well-dressed and attentive gentlemen, but that totally fails to draw attention from the fact that they are a hole in the ground. Wiping can be a surprisingly baffling task, too. Sometimes the paper is inside the cubicle, sometimes outside. Sometimes it’s not supplied at all. If you’re lucky, you’ve had the forethought to pack your own tissues after realizing the (literal) pain in the arse that can result from searching in vain.

People really do shout “Aye-ya!”
In the same way that a British person might say “bloody hell”, or an American might shout “holy shit”, Chinese people often shout “Aye-ya”. If a kid falls over at school: “Aye-ya!” If the lift is taking too long: “Aye-ya!” If you know the Chinese for “I don’t understand”: “Aye-ya, you’re Chinese SO good!”

Most people speak their mind.
I’ve always been a skinny dude. I find it difficult to gain weight. I always used to find it annoying when people in the UK somehow found it socially acceptable to say things like “You look like you could do with a good meal, mate” and then looked at me like I was an arsehole if I was confident enough to reply “yeah, you look like you could do with lending me one of yours.”

I’m over that now, because I’m so used to people saying “You are SO skinny” or “I think you should eat many delicious dishes” or “did you have breakfast?” or even having a man at the pool shout “Aye-ah!” And start poking me in my concave chest.

Most people smoke. And spit. Everywhere.
Spitting and smoking are as inexplicably popular here as One Direction are in the UK. When the smoking ban was introduced in England, everyone moaned about it and then made a strong cup of tea to steady their nerves. When the smoking ban was introduced in China, everyone moaned about it and then lit a cigarette.

It is also not uncommon to see a little old lady walk down the street and, just as you are thinking “aw, what a cute little old lady,” seeing her press her finger to her nose and hock out a huge stream of mucus onto the pavement. You kind of get used to it.

Pretty much everyone sings karaoke…
You are not getting the most out of Beijing unless you’ve spent at least four hours at the local KTV karaoke club, sipping TsingTaos, spitting sunflower seeds all over the floor and singing Stop Crying Your Heart Out at the top of your lungs until it offends your own tone-deaf ears.

…And have shite taste in music.
A female Chinese colleague once asked me to explain the ‘meaning’ behind a song by some mincing pork-pie hatted Caucasian hipster (I assure you, I have no idea which one. They all look the same to me.) I begrudgingly agreed, listening to all of the lyrics and then explaining them: “There is man,” I said. “Mouth breather. He stands at window telling girl he is sorry that he broke her heart. Girl tells him to go away.”
“Ah,” said my colleague. “Is sad song?”
“Is bollocks song!”

Later, I asked the same colleague, “Do you like Rolling Stones?”
My colleague stared blankly before saying, “Who is he?”

The only suitable response I could muster was, “No fucking waaaay!”


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