When we’re accustomed to the tranquility of our country, to our gastronomy, and to our comfortable way of life. When we arrive in Shanghai, no doubt, the cultural shock is here. It is so rough that we want to take the plane back home immediately.
Yet, after some time spent in the Chinese city, what shocks us the most when arriving becomes what makes us the saddest to leave. It is when we return to the ‘westerners’ life as we say that we have enough hindsight to realize how amaaazing it was.
Back on the worst (and best) Shanghai memories:
1. The crowd
The crowd is everywhere. All the time. From 6 am until the end of the day, in the street, in the supermarkets, or the metros. The personal space in China, it does not exist. Or it’s a luxury. Getting jostled is part of everyday life. At first, it’s tiring. When you get out of a day’s work, the last thing you want is to fight to get into a bus. And then after a few weeks … we start to do the same, to jostle the others without anyone being shocked. It is at this time that we find it pleasant. And we wonder why we had not started before! And then from a certain hour, the streets are empty and the city enters in a mystical calm.
2. The food
At first it’s hard. We like nothing and we don’t feel good about the idea to eat street food or in the little ‘restaurants’. We end up with Mr. MacDonald. And then, after a few days and weeks, we do not know where to head. The choice is so big that the choice of midday lunch among colleagues is the subject of a great debate. Between fried rice, Chinese fondues, woks, fish planchas, all kinds of food and unknown spices, it is a real delight to discover Chinese cuisine. Add to that Vietnamese, Taiwanese, Japanese restaurants, and the choice is endless.
3. Take the subway
Take the subway is a real experience. In Europe, when a subway stops at a station, incoming passengers wait on the side for the passengers to go out. In China, as soon as the doors open, it is a spectacular collision between incoming and outgoing passengers. There is no organization. It always struck me. To get out of the metro is another story. During rush hours, you have to be careful not to be far from the door. Otherwise, you can’t get out.
4. Take the bus
Take the bus is not easy either. If the metro is too difficult and you decide to take the bus, pay attention! You have to be at the exact place where the bus stops otherwise it leaves without you. When the doors open you have about 3 seconds to get in. It is not uncommon for the doors to close on you. There is no question of automatic doors or neighbors who become alarmed if you are being crushed between 2 doors. It’s just normal 🙂
5. Take the taxi
Take the taxi is great. First, taxis are everywhere. No need to look for one, never. Then, for 2 € you cross the whole city. And finally, the drivers are so dangerous that you feel like Samy Naceri in the movie ‘taxi’. Doubling a car through the sidewalk, for example, is normal. Even to win only one spot at a red light. Perfect if you were not well awake. Finally you are never really sure to arrive at your destination. With your magnificent Chinese accent, it is not surprising to find yourself in an opposite street of the city. Great to visit new neighborhoods.
6. Cross the road
In Shanghai it is not surprising to find yourself in the middle of a 4-lane road and to stand her until there are no more cars in the road. With this law of ‘pedestrian is not king’ you become very aware. Back in Europe, you are really annoyed to see a car stop when you put a foot on the road 10 meters from her.
7. The supermarket test
The supermarket in China it’s like Disneyland. Some supermarkets are so big, it’s kind of an Ikea with us but for food. Despite this large quantity of products, difficult to find what you want. Even for a simple piece of bread, tomatoes and ham. Everything is different. Even fruits and vegetables are different from home. The charcuterie department is funny. The fish department is not pleasant, with live turtles in trays. Finally, the choice to eat outside is quick!
8. Go to our favorite restaurant
Have you discovered a superb restaurant making woks that everybody likes? Don’t be surprised if it does not exist anymore when you return one week later.
9. Line up
Wait in a store without being rushed by the person behind you each time you do a step forward, it does not happen often. Another unusual thing that can happen. We, Europeans, line up in line. Chinese people can queue round. Which is not exactly a queue as the goal here is to get served first even if we’re the last arrived.
10. Do not look at the weather but the pollution index
When you live in a Chinese city, in the morning you never turn on your phone to watch the weather. To see if you need to take a jacket or sunglasses. No, you turn it on to see the pollution index of the day. While in Paris the city is on ‘alert’ when the air pollution index is 60. In Shanghai, an index of 60 is an excellent day, also very rare.
It’s funny to see that Chinese people like to party together and not only with ‘friends’ as usual. That changes everything. It is then pleasant to go out for party because the contact and the communication become easy. It contrasts with the feeling of never being able to create a connection with a Chinese in everyday life. Yet, the music can be very loud in some clubs.
14. A city that never sleeps
A striking thing in Shanghai, this city never sleeps. Have a hair cut at 2am after the bar is possible. No wonder when you go back to Europe, you do not understand why the hairdressers close at 2pm on Saturdays.
17. The Shanghai disparity
Finally, what surprised me the most are these two possible lives in Shanghai. As an expat you either decide to live a comfortable expat life or to have a Chinese-style stay. Whole neighborhoods are made for foreigners. On the type of accommodation, restaurants or bars. Notably in the famous ‘French concession’ which dates from the former colonies. More comfortable but less funky than to live like the Chinese population.
Without a doubt, when we return home, it requires a heavy adaptation.
A stay in Shanghai as an expat is very exciting, thrilling and enriching.