16 Things You Learn As A British Expat In China

I moved from London to Shanghai earlier this year and I’ve had to learn a hell of a lot fast.

1. I went from living in a place where stuff like this happens.

2. To living in a place where stuff like this happens.

That’s the growth of Shanghai in just twenty years.

3. It’s been an eye-opening experience.

(These crabs, on sale in a supermarket, are alive.)

4. Here’s what I’ve learned about life here so far.

5. 1. Spitting is not a bad habit. It’s brilliant.

In fact, hawking up golf ball-sized phlegm globules whilst making a sound like a cat with a stubborn hairball is perfectly acceptable.

6. 2. British people drink even more booze than you thought they did.

“Mr Jamie, how many bottles of beer do you drink in one night?” is a phrase I’ve heard, spoken in a tone of bemused wonder, more than once.

7. 3. UK health and safety regulations do not reflect those in China.

8. 4. Shoes aren’t just for people.

Pretty much every Chinese dog owner dresses their pooch up, with outfits often including shoes. A naked dog in the street is almost as unacceptable as a naked human.

9. 5. Nightclubs don’t have to involve struggles with awful bouncers.

You don’t care if we bring in a take-away pizza? Or if we’re wearing jeans and flip-flops? And it’s buy-one-get-one-free? Why couldn’t Mahiki in London be like this…

10. 6. Even dive bars have table service. You’ll never be able to queue for a drink again.

Two £1.50 beers please, my good man.

11. 7. You can afford a cleaner even if you earn half what you did before.

It costs around £2.50 an hour to have an Ayi, or “Aunt”, clean your apartment, wash your clothes, do your washing up and cook for you. It’s so affordable that even the Ayis have Ayis.

12. 8. Your house will cost you half as much as your old one. And will be twice as big.

13. 9. Visiting the supermarket feels more like visiting the zoo.

Snapping turtles, hairy crabs, sea slugs… be careful not to drool in the aisles.

14. 10. And your plan to “buy local” is a charade you’ll repeat every week.

It usually involves ten minutes of wandering the noodle aisles, then slinking to the import section for a £4.50 jar of pasta sauce.

15. 11. If you’re into football, Saturday nights turn into wi-fi and 3G searches.

Due to time zone differences kick offs in the English leagues take place late on Saturday in eastern China. It can seriously affect dating schedules.

16. 12. Despite thinking you’d be out of the loop, you speak to your friends back home all the time.

Because you’ve got a VPN that lets you use Facebook (that’s banned by the government) plus you’ve got Skype and WhatsApp too. Anyway, you never saw the mates who lived further away than a mile from you more than once every six months.

17. 13. Traffic lights don’t mean much.

Vehicles can legally still turn right at red lights. Which makes you wonder why there are traffic lights in China at all.

18. 14. You can stumble home at any time and feel totally safe because people aren’t lurking to mug you.

You’re around four times less likely to be a victim of murder if you are in China than you are if you are in the US, according to national homicide rates. Which is good to know.

19. 15. Although for pretty much everything you need to do there are six forms to fill out.

And the form will be in Mandarin. And you’ll need a photocopy of your passport. And one of your residency permit. And you’ll need your official company stamp. Which you can only get in Shanghai/Beijing (delete city you live in).

20. 16. But it’s worth it, because living in a Chinese city is invigorating, exciting and intoxicating. And because you’re living somewhere that looks as amazing as this.

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