You expect to encounter big cultural differences to which you will have to adjust, like differences in worldview orientation. But some days it seems like someone went out of their way to make differences in even the most innocuous cultural areas, as if they just want to niggle you 24/7 with they idea that “Haha! We’re different here, in fact, pretty much the opposite of your culture. And we do it on purpose, too! Just to mess with you! Haha, silly foreigner!”
For example: without warning, writing things right-to-left, as if it doesn’t really make a difference.
Even if you can’t read Chinese, you can see that the name of this hotel is written in opposite directions (R-L on the van, L-R on the satellite dish). This hotel’s main sign is also right-to-left.
Some more examples:
- Counter-clockwise. Games are played counter-clockwise. How many times are we playing games and some foreigner goes, “What? Oh right, it’s my turn!”
- Clapping. Chinese people clap to music on 1 and 3, not 2 and 4 (with the snare beat) like North Americans.
- Addresses. In China, addresses are written putting context before subject, like this: Canada, BC, Vancouver, [Street name], [Building #], [Unit #].
- Directions. Directions go east-south-west-north. It’s like saying Jessica grew up in the Eastnorth, rather than the Northeast.
- Numbers. …ohhhhh numbers. Big headache for language students. We think in groups of thousands, putting a comma after every three zeros (1,000: thousand, million, billion). But in Chinese, numbers come in groups of ten thousand (1,0000: ten-thousand [万], hundred-million [亿], trillion [兆] ). Good luck translating big numbers in your head on the fly!
And I’m sure there’s more; these are just what I could think of off the top of my head. Which of these are just random meaningless differences, and which are actually surface symptoms of deeper underlying cultural differences… who knows.