You’d think being married to a Chinese man would have made my experiences in China a bit easier, but no! That’s ok, because looking back, it made for some very interesting times when I would try to understand what people were saying or how I should act in certain situations. So here are some brief points of what I learned.
Smile and nod
People will come up to you and just start talking, very rapidly, in Mandarin. Even if you’ve been on point with your studies, it is very difficult to understand. Plus, there are different accents. Even my own in-laws have different accents from my husband. I was always asking them to repeat themselves. And when I still couldn’t understand, I’d just smile and nod.
They don’t gesture much
In some places you’ll go, people will use gestures to help you understand and you’ll do the same. In China, I largely felt like this was not the case. My mother-in-law, kind as she is, never gestured which made communicating with her really exhausting. My father-in-law was a bit better with the gesturing though so I’d just turn to him to try to understand.
Go ahead and laugh at yourself
For me, because of the language barrier and the cultural differences, I found I could get very frustrated. Know that it’s completely normal because you’re miles from home and not understanding things will make you feel stupid. But that’s ok, really it is because it challenges you to understand more about yourself. Plus, you’ll learn from your mistakes. Most people are incredibly kind in China so you’ll be able to get over your frustrations rather quickly.
Go all in
One of the hardest things for me to learn about China was to just let go and embrace it. Once I went all in with it, I felt much more at home. Now, I miss it very much and hope to go back someday.
And don’t forget that with apps and translating devices, China is a much easier place to live in now. It’s not to say you shouldn’t make the effort to learn but having those things will lessen the feeling of being a sore thumb and help you fit right in.