A typical Chinese way to say hi is “Chi le mei?” which means, “Have you eaten yet?” Like “How are you?” in English, this is a question not really requiring a literal answer. So often you’ll tell someone you’ve already eaten over the roar of your growling, empty stomach.
2. You consider it a compliment when a Chinese person remarks that you’ve gained weight, and you catch yourself saying the same thing to others.
In traditional Chinese culture, the chubbier a person is, the more prosperous and healthy he or she is deemed to be. So a comment about your weight, especially coming from elderly Chinese, is not meant to tell you to lay off the fatty pork belly.
But in general, people in China can be pretty frank with comments about other people’s physical appearance. You know you’ve been in China too long when the first thing out of your mouth on seeing an old friend is an exclamation about his or her weight.
3. You break out your umbrella on sunny days to avoid getting tan.
People in China consider darker skin a sign of a peasant background, while lighter skin means high status in that you haven’t had to labor outside. As unfair as it is, women with darker skin are considered less attractive. Skin whitening products are a multi-billion-dollar industry in China. The latest trend to hit beachwear is the facekini, which is essentially a big sock you wear over your head with a few slits for your eyes, nose, and mouth.
4. You know how to gracefully drink tea with the leaves floating around in your cup.
For people in China, drinking tea made in teabag form is akin to drinking instant coffee in the US. It just doesn’t cut it once you’ve had the real thing. You’ve learned how to drink tea with loose leaves floating around without choking on them or being forced to chew them down. You know it’s all in the way you use your teeth as a strainer. And you know that yellowed teeth are an unfortunate byproduct of your tea snobbery.
5. You’re no longer color blind.
Red denotes good luck, fortune, and happiness in China. Traditional Chinese wedding outfits are red. Red envelopes are used to give out money during Chinese New Year. You know that people in China don’t shy away from wearing red during holidays or celebrations.
You also know white is the color of mourning and death, and you avoid wearing white in your hair as it means a relative has passed away. You know there are all kinds of exceptions (brides in China now wear Western-style white gowns), but you do your best to be color sensitive, especially when there are elderly Chinese in the mix.