And I have found some habits or customs that I have not encountered elsewhere. These 3 Chinese peculiarities stand out: Spitting, hand clapping and split pants.
This one Chinese habit probably throws Westerners off the most… Many Chinese, especially the older generation, do not use a tissue to blow their nose. Instead, they do what sounds like a big loud snort and then spit the stuff out.
This can happen everywhere. For example, some guys are walking in front of you and all of a sudden, a snort, a spit, and bam, the stuff lands right in front of your feet. Yikes (from a Westerner perspective). Indoors, the spit usually goes into a trashcan. Just yesterday I saw and heard an older woman coughing up phlegm over a restroom sink at the shopping mall.
You will see Chinese, especially younger people, using a tissue to blow their nose but not putting a used tissue back into a pocket. Putting a used tissue into the pocket and maybe even reusing it is what they find really gross. They rather tear a tissue into two or three strips of paper, use each once, and throw it away.
Clapping hands loudly while walking is a popular exercise in China. In summer, you may wake up to this sound at 5:30 in the morning…
So why do Chinese clap their hands? According to TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) the palms of the hands have many acupressure points, which get stimulated with clapping. It is also seen as a good exercise for the arms.
Sometimes you will see the hand clapping combined with another curious activity: walking backwards. Walking backwards supposedly relaxes the back muscles and strengthens different muscles compared to walking forward. The impact of craning your neck to make sure you don’t run into things, however, is not mentioned anywhere.
A variation of hand clapping is tree hitting, another form of self-massage. So when you see an older person attacking a tree, relax, they are just getting a massage.
No collection of experiences that are particular to China would be complete without the mentioning of split pants. For those of you, who are not familiar with the concept, split pants are worn by small children and are completely open in the middle to make it easy for an adult to hold the kid to pee and poop whenever and wherever needed.
I have witnessed this on the side of the street, next to a tree or flower bed, in the middle of the sidewalk, in front of a park bench, over a trashcan in the shopping mall (100 meters from the public restroom!), even in the subway, basically any place where small children are. – Even when the kids graduate to closed pants, they often “go” right where they are. This example inside an Apple store made the news recently.
Split pants are worn all year round, so in winter you can see a small boy all bundled up like the Michelin man sitting in the child seat of the shopping card in the supermarket with his tiny privates sticking out of the pant split. In summer pants, the cut-outs are bigger, I guess for more air circulation and faster drying?
Other customs may surprise Westerners in China, like people squatting rather than sitting, the man carrying the woman’s purse, etc. These can be seen in many Asian countries, not only in China.
If you have come across other habits or customs that seem specific to China, please feel free to share in the comments.