Everyone knows what you're saying. Sometimes that's a good thing, like when I want to ask a sales associate a question at a store. I don't have to look up words in my dictionary or struggle to convey my meaning with hand motions. (The other day I was looking for a calendar or planner to buy in a store close to our university in China. The guy ended up taking me to the laundry/kitchen area to look at clothes hangers. Sigh.) Sometimes everyone knowing English can be bad though, like when I want to say inappropriate things in public. At the airport in Chicago, I almost said in a normal tone of voice to Matt, "I'm going to go take a crap before we board the plane. Be right back." Luckily, I caught myself just in time and realized everyone around me would have understood me. This was Chicago, not Tianjin. Oops.
While I'm grateful that we do get cheap mobile phone service in Tianjin, being home in the US this summer made me miss unlimited 3G data plans with easy access to Facebook and Netflix on my phone.
People in the US really respect your personal space. No stinky breath all up in your business. No one ramming into you in the store when you're standing to the SIDE of the aisle looking at something. (I almost lost it in H&M in Tianjin the other day when old ladies kept slamming their stuff into me as they passed by when I was looking at clothes.)
Guys above the age about 25 really smell in Tianjin. I'm not totally sure why (lack of hygiene, genetic factors, pollution in the air?) Also, smelling unusually strong smells of random food decaying in the streets of Tianjin is a normal experience. In the US, not so much.
6. Grocery Stores
I really miss the American grocery store. Organic food options, lots of bread and cheese choices, well-organized and spacious aisles, clean floors, fresh-smelling meats and vegetables, ahhhh.
Everyone buckles up in America, no second thought about it. Not in China. Sometimes taxis don't even have seat belts. Fortunately, everyone drives like a granny in Tianjin, so if we did ever have an accident, it would be a mild tap. (And that mild tap would result in hours of waiting for the police to show up and sort out everyone's involvement.)
4. Pedestrian Power
In Tianjin, people cross the road at random places whenever there's a slight break in traffic. They do this because hardly any cars will wait for pedestrians, whether there's a crosswalk, a red light, or what have you. So as a pedestrian here, you learn to go when you can and you NEVER EVER trust cars to stop for you. In the US, I forgot how paranoid cars are of hurting or offending pedestrians. They will wait for you to cross at a crosswalk for a WHOLE minute until you actually realize they're not going until you go and they're not going to hit you. I laughed every time a car waited for me to walk across an intersection in America this summer. Don't they realize they're so much bigger than me?
3. Drinking Tap Water
I was never a huge fan of straight-up tap water when we lived in America. We had a Britta filter for our sink and didn't trust the pharmaceuticals in the tap water. However, after living in China and returning to the US, I drank tap water just for the novelty of it. I even filled my water bottle up at the Seattle airport and drank that water after we landed in Beijing. Oh, the feeling of fearlessness when drinking from the tap!
2. Customer Service
In China, people expect bad customer service. Legitimate companies (like the airline we used to fly to and from the US this summer) have old phone numbers on their websites that are no longer in service. Buying plane or movie tickets online in China takes a minimum of ONE HOUR. (Buying online is more convenient and faster than buying in person. ONE HOUR is fast in China when dealing with a business that YOU are PAYING MONEY to.) Customer service in America is so sweet. We're missing a package that we ordered? Something came defective? A quick phone call or email (less than 10 MINUTES) and all is made right. 1-800 customer service hotlines with English-speaking workers that are available 24/7? Yes please.
And the #1 difference between China and the US...the total bathroom experience. First, when you walk into a public restroom in China, brace yourself for the smell. (There's that theme again...smells.) You've never smelled such a strong urine smell before. Then, be prepared for the grime covering everything (even though there will be cleaning ladies standing in a corner...I think they just reuse the same grimy, uriny water to "clean.") If you're lucky, your restroom will have Chinese-style squattie toilets. You want this because if there is a Western style toilet, it will probably have shoe marks on the seat, be dirtier than a Chinese-style squattie, and have lots of urine around the bottom for you to step in. Oh, and make sure you brought a packet of tissues because public restrooms in China hardly ever offer toilet paper. Don't forget to put your used tissue paper in the wastebasket in your stall because most toilets in China don't have the water pressure to handle flushing tissue paper. And forget about that wastebasket having a lid. You get to gaze in on everybody else's used tissues and other bathroom *ahem* supplies. When you've done your business and go out of the stall (which may or may not have a door or a door that closes or a door that locks), rinse your hands at the nasty sink (you most likely won't find any soap), and squirt some of your own hand sanitizer (which you hopefully didn't forget) to kill the 9 million germs you just picked up in that bathroom (because they don't often sell hand sanitizer in China, so you know everyone else who has touched anything in that bathroom had dirty hands). And now you can see why, when we were in the US last month, I enjoyed every second I spent in public restrooms, even the "dirty" gas station ones.
So this may have turned into a bit of a tirade about things that are more pleasant in the US, but you do get used to these unpleasant parts of China until you don't even think about them anymore. (Until of course, you return to the US again...) At any rate, it definitely makes me grateful for the little comforts of daily life when we are in the US. (Who ever thought I'd be grateful for US gas station restrooms, right?) And the other parts of living in China make all the little daily discomforts worth it, like the awesome new students I've met over the past two weeks.
To all you Americans reading...don't take your gas station bathrooms for granted. It could definitely be worse. Haha