Where is learning Chinese taking me?

March 12, 2018

In many cases, the destination country is only as good as the people you get to know there and the culture you deal with in everyday life. In my last article I already compared the food culture of the two countries. I believe that no culture is better or worse than the other. However, it is possible that certain cultures fit your personality better than others. If you are between Japan and China when choosing your destination, this post could be interesting for you.
My hypotheses are mainly based on my own experience. I've only been in China for half a year and have only been to Japan for two weeks. Although I'm not (yet) an Asia expert, I can still tell you about my impressions. First of all, I would like to thank Dominik in particular, who has included me in his Japanese circle of friends in Tokyo. We had a lot of fun on a ski trip with Dominik's Japanese friends and were able to gain very personal insights into Japanese social life.


The Japanese move through life with great caution. However, this leads to the fact that they often do not express their feelings for fear of offending the other. Then misunderstandings quickly arise. In general, there are really a lot of rules of conduct (and general rules) that outsiders can easily forget. For example, you are not allowed to make phone calls, text messages or have tattoos in the gym, and you feel like you have to change shoes three times. There are certainly nowhere as many prohibition signs as in Japan. My theory is that the people there have a certain fetish with the forbidden. Furthermore, the exaggerated politeness of many people makes it difficult to get to the point and have in-depth conversations. With some Japanese women in particular, a certain “childish” tone is sometimes noticeable, which makes it very difficult for a foreigner to have serious conversations.

It must be said that Japan is a proud country that looks back on a thousand-year history and that, compared to other countries in the region, opened up to other cultures very late. Accordingly, many people place little value on multiculturalism. For example, as a foreigner, you are not even allowed into many restaurants. On the other hand, there is a sign that reads “Foreigners welcome”, as if this were not a matter of course in 2018. Likewise, in Japan there are those people who refuse to contact foreigners per se and those who approach foreigners in the most friendly manner. What I find interesting about the latter group is that many people in Japan know the cultural references of the West very well (films, music, sports). So you have something to talk about and things in common.

It's really fun to live in China

China is very similar to Japan in many ways. Here, too, I appreciate the hospitality that friends show me every day. My Chinese acquaintances really go out of their way to show me their traditions and customs. I'm not only learning the language, but also learning Chinese manners and local humor. It's really fun to live here and I have to say that I missed the Chinese very much during my trip to Japan (although I felt like I chatted with Chinese tourists every day).

It is true that what we would call common sense is not always congruent with what the Chinese understand by it - in my last hostel, for example, people smoked in the bedroom, listened to loud music on the cell phone in the train and actually on the floor in almost all outdoor areas spat. However, if you say that such behavior is disturbing, it will also be respected. Of course, there are also many social norms that make life in China a challenge. If you make a mistake, it is quickly excused. Above all, however, I find the friendliness of the Chinese to be authentic, which really helps me build a real bond with my Chinese friends.

Dominik, one of my correspondent colleagues in Japan, also says openly that the Chinese are the friendliest people he has met. The Chinese, like the Japanese, are a proud people. The people here are already aware that China is an influential world power. Unlike Japan, however, China is in many ways still a country with significant economic and social challenges. Accordingly, one meets less arrogance than in Japan. What I love about China is that status and income don't prevent people from building friendships with one another. Yesterday I sat on plastic stools with tea farmers in Fujian and grilled frogs (I didn't try) and chicken (I tried, it was delicious) on an open fire. Today a successful banker and friend of the tea farmer family joined them for tea. I was told that this was due to the country's communist past.

For me personally, China is definitely the better destination country. I am an extroverted person and love the relaxed and friendly way around people here. It is a large, multicultural country with many contrasts. Every day leads to new discoveries. However, since I honestly prefer Japanese food and generally think Japan is great, I am happy about the cheap and short flights to Tokyo. In any case, I can't wait for the next trip.