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21 signs you’re a legit expat in China

1. Overhearing nigguh no longer stops you in your tracks.

那个(pronounced “na ge”) and 这个(pronounced “zhe ge”) mean “that one” and “this one” and are generally the first things you learn upon arrival in China. There’s also the disconcerting, repetitive “ne guh ne guh ne guh” which is used as a Chinese way of saying “umm…”

2. Hearing mei you still pisses you off.

The lazy answer to everything. 没有 (pronounced “mei you”) literally means “I don’t have.” It is rarely followed by an explanation or any further information.

3. You’ve given up on shopping for clothes.

It’s true that a multitude of cheap options can be found when shopping in China. Unfortunately, I’m 5’8” and wear a size 10 shoe. If you’re an average-sized Westerner, clothes shopping of any sort is out of the question. Any additions to my wardrobe arrive in beautiful care packages from mom.

4. You’re tired of being interrogated by taxi drivers.

Are you married? Why not? How much money do you make each month? At least $10,000, right?

Although culturally acceptable to begin with these questions, I’ll never get used to it.

5. You have a mask for high-pollution days and a pollution app on your phone.

There’s no escaping the smog that looms over Shanghai. Sadly enough, it’s become a part of the skyline. An Air Quality Index of 150-200 is the norm in Shanghai. A level that would severely alarm any city outside of China.

6. You know all bar and restaurant awards are paid for, yet you still tout them as the “best in the city.”

We all know these awards go to the highest bidder, yet we continue to go to that restaurant over another because “City Weekend says they have the best burgers.”

7. You’ve run out of BS answers to the question: “So you think you’ll stay forever?”

Fair enough. I came for one year, three-and-a-half years ago. But no one will readily admit that they might never leave.

8. You’ve conceded to paying luxury prices for mediocre products.

China’s cheap if you want to fully immerse yourself and try to “be one of them.” It’s far from cheap if you want to indulge in anything remotely foreign.

9. You no longer notice when a small fender bender blocks traffic. For miles.

Seriously. You can take pictures, argue, and wait for the police on the side of the road.

10. You know better than to play chicken with the bus drivers.

Pedestrians do not have the right-of-way. Buses will speed up and probably not honk before shifting their ankle to the left to brake for you.

11. You can actually provide numerous examples for when you realized you were living in a communist country.

Always the question from folks back home. No, I don’t have propaganda in my face daily, but, yes, I do notice when the government steps in occasionally. Most often when I want to check Facebook. Or YouTube. Or Snapchat. Or Tinder.

12. You realize it’s no use waiting for the green light.

In an organized society, green traffic lights are not generously handed out to all that desire, but rather a group of vehicles all traveling in the same direction. If it happens to be offered to another lucky bunch of steel, they most certainly do not have the priority and must wait until their path is clear.

In China, a green light is generally given to everyone in smaller intersections, left-turning traffic and pedestrians included. Those of us on scooters, bicycles, or, heaven forbid, risking transportation on foot, must be diligently cautious or aggression will ensue. The term ‘right-of-way’ does not yet exist in the Chinese vocabulary.

13. You no longer have any quandaries elbowing Granny Zhang in order to exit the metro/elevator.

I get it, there’s an empty seat way over yonder that you (and 20 other people) have your eye on, but even on the elevator? Why must I fight my way off?

14. You now realize those old people helping people park their cars are a necessity.

Old — I assume retired — folks are always hanging out along the street. As soon as a car approaches, they run over to direct them on how to park properly and, of course, collect their due. Parking meters don’t exist and parallel parking seems to be an anomaly to the citizens of the Middle Kingdom.

15. In three guesses or less, you know the profession of every expat in the room.

The majority of expats in China fit into a three job categories: education, trade, and architecture/design. We either assume we know or don’t even bother asking.

16. You’re selective while handing out friendship vibes.

Living abroad is interesting because you’re always meeting so many new people. Said new people are also always coming and going. Learning that someone is only “here for a few months” often zaps the energy needed to develop a new, meaningful friendship.

17. You’re severely lacking in outside world information.

Censorship is real, folks. If I find out at all, it hardly qualifies as breaking news.

18. “Get to know you” conversations are shockingly short and highly predictable.

What do you do here? “So where do you teach?”

Where are you from? “Which city in Italy are you from?”

How did you learn Chinese? “So you studied in Jiaotong University? Ah, Fudan, right on.”

You can skip right over those mundane questions. Observe for 10 seconds and you’ll already know that she’s a teacher because she’s drunk on a Monday night. Her Italian accent is super obvious (but cute). And she just ordered a round of beers and tequila shots flawlessly in Chinese.

19. You’ve accepted the fact that you’re going to pay substantially more for an Apple product.

True story. Not everything is cheaper in China.

20. You’re still shocked at how much affluent Chinese pay for luxury cars.

Due to taxes and import costs, an Audi R8 in the United States might run you $100,000. In China, expect something more like $380,000.

21. And you’re totally baffled when you see who actually steps out of those luxury cars.

In the United States, I generally imagine a James Bond-like scene when seeing a luxury car zoom past my street side table outside of my favorite café. Driver revs engine, attracts everyone’s attention. Said driver screeches to a halt in front of the fanciest hotel in the city, he tosses his keys to the valet staff on his way in for his 3pm martini on the rocks. He’s wearing a tuxedo, maybe even a diamond studded watch on his left wrist.

In Shanghai, they drive so slow that you’re unsure as to whether they’re new to driving or are just simply extra careful. The old man from #16 rushes over and they work on parallel parking while you order (and finish) another beer. Then, as the driver steps out, you’re at a loss for words. There in front of you stands a 28 year old that doesn’t know how to brush his hair let alone dress himself.

You can only assume the car was stolen.

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