Foreigners living abroad often learn that some of their simplest daily habits are practiced differently in their new country. Digital Producer Du Yubin has lived in the United States since 2012. He’s picked up on a few cultural differences between the people of China and the United States. Here are some of his examples of things we do differently on a daily basis.

1. Ice water or hot water?

cold water or hot water
Photo by D Sharon Pruitt on flickr; CFP

“Would you like something to drink?” “Yes, water please.” When served water in an American restaurant, it is usually iced and chilled. But in China, patrons are served hot water when they go out to eat. Drinking hot water is a common habit for many Chinese and a universal remedy when someone is sick. But many Chinese dislike hearing the phrase, “多喝热水,” meaning “drink more hot water,” when they’re not well, because they see it as dismissive and lacking true regard for one’s health.

2. Morning or night shower?


Do you take shower in the morning after waking up or before going to bed at night?  Many Americans start their day with a cup of coffee and a shower.  But Chinese people say, “洗洗睡吧“, translated as “take a shower and then sleep.”  That’s how most Chinese people end the day. “My New Life in Asia”  blogger Aris Teon says one reason for the difference is to “not make the bed sheets dirty.” 

3. Share or not share your food?  
CFP Photo

In China, almost every restaurant has round tables, and many of tables are equipped with a round rotating glass, called a “lazy Susan” in Western countries. Chinese people spin the glass so everyone can sample every dish. Sharing food is one of the most important traditions in Chinese culture. Round table or circle (圆) stands for “perfection” and “unity” in Chinese culture, and is applied in food culture, too. Family members reunite to celebrate when the moon is at its fullest. Sharing meals is the best way for Chinese families to communicate.
Americans might share a taste on a side plate, but the lazy Susan table is not as common in U.S. restaurants.

4. Coffee or soybean milk?


Soybean milk has long been a traditional beverage in China, Japan and other parts of Asia. Soybean milk with YouTiao, or fried bread stick, is a traditional and popular breakfast combo. A cup of coffee is a must for many Americans first thing in the morning. But some Chinese have not acquired a taste for coffee, finding it too bitter.  Among young people in China’s big cities like Shanghai and Beijing, coffee is becoming more popular. The Shanghai Free Trade Zone has just established a Coffee Exchange Center to boost China’s trade in coffee.  

5. Tipping or not at restaurants?

Tipping servers is expected in the United States. Fifteen to 20 percent of the bill is customary and is the main source of income for waiters and waitresses. But there is no tipping in China.  Servers’ salaries are not reliant on being supplemented by tips. Customers rarely pay waiters extra.