First things first: You should forget everything you have ever learned about being polite or considerate in your childhood. This is a treat you will not really see here very often with people you do not know. Maybe the local amazing citizens will be a bit more considerate to you since you do not have a Chinese face, but otherwise you should not expect too much politeness over here. But since this guide is designed to be a very practical one I guess it is the best to show you real-life-situations of how it is done.
Is there a better way to find out how selfish somebody is than having a look at a situation with many people wanting something – and to find out who is waiting to get it and who is not? You think standing in a line while waiting your turn is fun?
Well, here in China there are no queues – even if you think there is one it is more a ball of chaotic madness where people always try to be the first. When in Rome do as the Romans do: Extend your elbows and push everybody is threatening your position in line back. Jumping the queue is sports here. You can start to imagine that the queue is more a big crowd where everybody pushes. It gets especially interesting while entering and exiting the subway: Nobody lets the people from the inside get out first, everybody pushes inside the carriage while the people from the inside are trying to push themselves out. So put your “pushing”-face on, pretend you do not see the pain you might cause to others, and push as hard as you can. This game can also be played at a much smaller scale in an elevator: Push in, push out. And most importantly do not forget to push the “close the door”-button even if you see somebody running to catch the elevator. He might take away the personal space that you really need while he has “just” to wait for 5 minutes again. And since you should not put too much trust in the buttons anyway be sure to press the button as many times as possible until the door is really closed. Letting other people not get into the elevator is especially fun in one of the 30-stories high living buildings with only 3 elevators.
And not only in an actual queue is it an interesting experience to push others: Did you ever wonder why traffic is so chaotic here? If you look around some drivers just park their cars in the middle of the street while other drivers block each other because nobody wants to give way to anybody else. Basically there is one rule about driving a car here: The one who is least scared about getting a scratch in his car wins. Thus, a crucial recommendation if you do not always want to lose the battle on the street: Get a rental car. If it’s a rental, don’t be gentle.
Of course if an accident actually happens you will have a lot of bystanders – but nobody will help. It does not matter if somebody is brutally beaten up in a restaurant, if somebody gets hit in the traffic lying on the street without anybody calling emergency services. There will be lots of people standing around and watching with big interest but nobody will move a finger to help. Why is that? Well, some people say that this is the result of a weird court ruling: a person who was not involved in an accident and wanted to help was sentenced to pay compensation. There is absolutely no reason to help if you are guilt free. Other opinions include that there is never enough for everybody anyway, so by this “first come first serve, and do not care about anybody else”-rule this is again a self-organizing chaos with poor victims left behind.
Even a phenomenon that might seem cute for uninitiated foreigners can become a battle of selfishness. Did you ever hear about the dancing grannies? If not just go visit public places. If you checked enough places you will surely come across some grandmothers dancing to music originating from portable speakers. Cute you say? That is as long as you’re not living next to them. Since these grannies also congregate next to residences their music and dancing can be a public nuisance. What begins with a one-hour-dancing session can quickly become a 12-hours-disco next to your living room, which can also massively influence the market value of the residence you’ve bought. Since these grannies are not really the kindest type any protest by people living next to their public music club is kindly or not so kindly discarded – and quickly this peaceful activity evolves into a war between residents and old people. The residents become creative in their way of fighting back, methods known hitherto include throwing feces at the dancers or investing an awful lot of money in special speakers intended for crowd control at demonstrations to shout back.
Anyway – just remember the rule: Be selfish, you come first.
Even though people here are selfish there is one other thing they are: They are group-oriented. Thus, selfishness can quickly develop into “groupishness” – but this is only true if you really know the other people well or you have a deep connection with them. Or want to have a deep connection with them. Or you have a lot of respect for them. Or there is some other reason.
Anyway, while selfishness is mostly the biggest driving factor here people can still suddenly become very protective and caring if you somehow belong to their social group. Which also means: If you do not belong to their social group you might get serious problems.
Sometimes not only single people try to cut the line in front of you but a whole bunch of people pushes their way through. And I would certainly not recommend getting into a fight with locals here as a foreigner: Even bystanders who have nothing to do with a fight might join in – and as a non-Chinese person you should certainly not expect them to support you. You are more likely to feel a bottle break on your head. Crucial recommendation: Be peaceful. And while you can complain a lot here you should pretty much know where the limit is and stop there before somebody becomes a furious beast.