Posted by: Nena Cavel | March 2, 2009

Shopping and Students

Today I went to Carrefour, a French chain of supermarkets, to go pick up some necessities for the week. That’s what Sundays are good for, housecleaning, homework, grocery shopping etc. I went to the same Carrefour last Sunday and, like an amnesiac, I went back today. The Norman Wal-Mart on the day before game day pales in comparison to any Chinese grocery store on the weekend. Standing in the checkout line-area there were so many people I could barely move. Sometimes the aisles were so crowded I couldn’t even see the merchandise on the selves. And then on the bus ride going home people were so packed in the aisle I could barely fit by bag in the space. The good part is that I got out of Carrefour for the equivalent of about ten dollars.

That’s not to say that China is intolerable, actually, most of the time Beijing doesn’t feel that crowded, considering how many people live here. Also, public etiquette is very different here. There aren’t really any lines, people just crowd in to the front; pushing and shoving aren’t considered rude. If you didn’t push and shove you’d probably be run over. I’ve found these aspects surprisingly easy to adjust to. Its fun to not have to worry about apologizing every time you bump into somebody and elbowing your way to the front can be a refreshing change of pace from waiting patiently in line. To anyone who is studying in Beijing or just traveling there for any extended period of time, I highly recommend getting a bus card; the buses are cheap, frequent and cover a good deal of the city. Taxis are also much cheaper than anywhere else I’ve been in the States or Europe but using them on a daily basis of course quickly adds up.

On the subject in etiquette, I’ve noticed some cultural difference between the students from Kazakhstan and Russia and…everybody else. When class is in session, they answer their cell phones, listen to their headphones so loudly I can hear it three or four chairs away, sleep and walk in late. Not all the other international students act like this; I was talking with one of my classmates from Turkmenistan and he agreed that the Kazakh students are especially rude. I know their must be cultural differences between the U.S. and Kazakhstan, but I wouldn’t think it would be kosher in any culture to behave like that in class. It’s very distracting when you’re trying to listen to your professor who can only speak Chinese and the girl next to you is listening to a Pussycat Dolls song on full volume. What is also weird is that for the first week or so the professors said nothing, though now they have started to ask the students to take out their headphones. The Chinese university students start class this week so soon we’ll have the opportunity to get a Chinese speaking-buddy and to take afternoon culture classes like calligraphy, kungfu or minority dancing!

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