Thursday, November 08, 2012

Five Ways Switzerland Prepared The Frau for China

Nǐ haǒ. The Frau has returned from the Far East where she spent two weeks running around the People’s Republic of China. (For those who are wondering, no, Baby M did not add a sixth country to her life list, rather she had her own vacation zu Hause with her American Grandma while American Grandma went through her own version of Swiss culture shock in the process—very nice hiking trails, but too much cigarette smoke and pushy people was Grandma’s final verdict on Switzerland).

In many ways, Beijing is Zurich’s opposite (especially in pedestrian safety, air quality, and the price of public transportation—only 20 cents for a bus ride in Beijing). But in other ways, Switzerland couldn’t have prepared the Frau any better for China. Below are five ways you’ll feel at home in China if you’re living as a foreigner in Switzerland.

One: The language barrier won’t bother you.

What’s a little Mandarin when you’ve been trying to comprehend Swiss German? If you’re used to tuning out foreign languages and already feeling like a fish out of water, not understanding anything in China will be no big deal.

Two: You’ll be used to people having no concept of a line.

The Frau lost track of the number of Chinese people who cut in front of her when buying metro tickets or at security checkpoints. But this was no different than having Swiss people barging in front of her at the cheese counter or at a Swiss McDonald’s—even when she was pregnant, no less. Therefore, when being passed up in China, the Frau just sighed in recognition of something Americans call politeness and the rest of the world calls passiveness.

Three: When people push and shove on public transport, you’ll push right back.

Foreigners are often treated as walking ATMs in China
Beijing may have 20 million people and Zurich 390,000, but you wouldn’t know this based on the almost identical way their commuters both act. Luckily, Switzerland has trained the Frau to elbow and push like the best of the Chinese. But the Frau did notice that the Chinese readily give up their seats for old people and women with children, something she doesn’t witness the Swiss doing very often.

Four: You’ll have your cash ready.

Like in Switzerland, credit cards are not commonly accepted in China, so be prepared to carry cash—lots of it, since you’ll probably end up paying the “foreigner price.”

Five: You’ll be used to being treated as a foreigner.

Unlike in Switzerland, your appearance in China will probably scream foreigner before you even open your mouth. But in some ways this makes it easier because you don’t have to decide whether to give yourself away or not. The Frau proudly wore her camera around her neck since there was no disguising who she was.

How does living abroad affect how you travel to new countries?


Señor H said...

Interesting post and a great blog!
Señor H, Sweden

Chantal said...

Thanks, glad you enjoyed it.

Herspective said...

Agree! I haven't been to China, but it sounds similar to South Korea. The pushing and cutting in line are probably the things that irk me most about the culture here -.-... buuut it is a wonderful country with a fascinating history. Also agree about sticking out here. In Germany/Europe you can totally hide your foreign-ness (at least until you open your mouth), but here, there's no chance.

Hope you had a great time and hope to see a follow-up post about your time in China!

Hattie said...

The Swiss are great at training one to be a foreigner. When we were in Peru recently we did not worry a bit about standing out.
I must add, though, that the Peruvians are the politest, nicest people, as a group, I have ever met.
The Swiss have taught me to be grateful for every kindness: not to expect kindness but to thank people, smile at people, tip people, be patient, never be mean.
Thank you Swiss! You earn your reputation as great teachers!

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