China is home to some pretty amazing natural and architectural wonders (you may have heard tell of a little thing called the Great Wall). It is a great place to visit and can give you an experience you can't get in any other place in the world, but there are some things you need to know before you go. If you are from America or a country in the European Union, you are going to experience some extreme culture shock when you arrive! Here are five things you need to know before you go, so you can ensure that you have a fantastic time in China.
Unlike in America, or other Western countries, where you can whip out your credit or debit card to buy anything from a plane ticket to a stick of gum, in China cash is king. More businesses are beginning to accept Mastercard and Visa, but for the most part, stores and restaurants expect you to pay in cash. And that cash should be in yuan or RMB, not in dollars, euros, or anything else you might have in your pocket. To exchange your currency, it is recommended to use an ATM to get the best exchange rate.
Another American custom that is frowned upon in China is tipping your waiter at a restaurant. In America you are expected (some even feel like "compelled" is a better word) to leave a large tip for any meal you get, but in China this is not the case. Chinese citizens do not leave tips, and if a tourist tries to do so, it makes you stick out like a sore thumb or even - in a worst case scenario - look rude.
Bring Your Own Napkins
Strangely, over the course of my research on China, one theme kept coming up on every travel blog or website I came across: if you want to use napkins in a restaurant, you have to bring your own. Some restaurants will bring you napkins if you specifically ask for them, but sometimes they charge you extra for them. As a rule, Chinese restaurants do not provide napkins, so if you are messy (like me), make sure you have some Wet-Naps, tissues, or old McDonald's napkins in your bag. These can also come in handy in the restroom, which those same blogs and websites say are often without toilet paper.
Learn a Bit of the Language
As with visiting any foreign country, you should at least get a basic grip on the country's language before you go. Be careful, though, as China does not have one single language, it has several different dialects, many of which are localized to specific areas. Mandarin and Cantonese are your best bets, but try to find out which language is the most-spoken in the cities you will be visiting. While it is true that you might be able to get by with English in some of China's biggest cities, you will look much more friendly (and impressive!) if you speak at least a little of the local language.
Consider Getting a VPN
The internet is another big way that China differs from much of the rest of the world. While we in America can get on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Google whenever and wherever we want, you can't access any of these sites in China. They are blocked by what techies refer to as "The Great Firewall of China," and you could be left without any access at all to some of the most-used websites while you're abroad if you don't think ahead. To get around the Great Firewall, you can purchase a Virtual Private Network (VPN) before you leave. This VPN hides your computer's real location, and can make it appear that you are logging onto the internet from your home country, in which you are able to access all of your beloved social networking and entertainment sites. These VPNs can be a bit hit or miss at times, but they are relatively inexpensive at around $10 per month, and can really ease your mind if you are dependent on certain websites. If not, enjoy your time off the grid - Google will still be here when you get back!