My internship experience was with a Chinese logistics company. They are responsible for the organisation of shipping hundreds of tons of cargo every year. Work life there is certainly different from the UK way of working.
Every Monday, everyone in the office received a free snack after lunch. One week we got cake, another week a smoothie. A different company would have supplied the food each week. They brought in the food and distributed it in the conference room. My boss told me it was to praise the office for their hard work.
The work hours were 08:30 to 11:30 then a two-hour lunch break, resuming from 13:30 to 17:30. I found myself starting to get a little bored during the lunch break because it was so long. Closer to the end of my stay, I would take the bus to another part of the city or go to the gym during lunch, as I found the lunch break quite long.
On my first day in the office at around 12:45, the office suddenly became very quiet and I looked around and everyone was sleeping! They had brought in small pillows and used these to nap at their desks.
My colleagues were very helpful and mindful of me. If there was anything I didn’t understand, at least three people would appear and rush to help me. When I could not get my laptop charger plug into the socket, a girl two desks away ran over and helped me. And the same when I couldn’t use the kettle (as everything is in Chinese), two people came running over again.
Most employees (male and female) at my company had teddy bears at their desks and would hold them from time to time.
One thing I noticed during my internship is that people in my office audibly, dramatically, loudly and randomly sighed. I had no idea what about though. Also, when I asked my boss why everyone in the office was speaking so loudly on the office phones, he did not know what I was talking about. It seemed like people were very noisy, but it is not seen as impolite.
I was on the 23rd floor of a 26 storey building. Each floor can hold up to 80 people and everyone started around 08:30 in the morning. This means a lot of waiting for the elevators in the morning. There are so many people at this time that the building employs people just for the early morning rush to help load people into the elevators. If you arrived at the wrong time, you could wait up to 15 minutes just to get to your floor.
Culture Outside of Work
In the evenings after my internship, I would often see old retired Chinese folk “people watching”. They liked to hang around outside and would pull up a chair and sit on the footpath watching people passing by. Many also used to meet their friends on street corners to play “Chinese Chess” or gamble.
Older Chinese people are really into socialising and movement. Every morning I used to see a few people in my apartment complex doing Tai Chi or walking around slapping themselves all over their body. Apparently this is to help increase blood flow.
Many people would meet in the evenings to dance, exercise and stretch together. They would usually play traditional Chinese music or modern remixes of old classics. And you can definitely hear them before you see them!
Cultural Norms that Surprised Me
If you haven’t heard by now, spitting is very common in China. You can find people spitting pretty close to your shoes on the streets. Not intentionally, of course.
There is also a phenomenon called the ‘Beijing Bikini’, where middle-aged men roll up their T-shirt to expose their bellies on hot days. It is considered more polite than removing their entire T-shirt. There is no shame, only pride.
I feel China is a very tactile country. Lots of young girls will hold hands or link arms while walking and I have even seen some old men holding hands too.
Sometimes queuing is non-existent in China, and one of the things I will never fully understand as a Brit. Every time someone jumps in front of me, I try to be chill. In the UK, as a child, you learn to contribute to the greater good of the team. In China though, it seems like every man for himself and children are raised not to cooperate but to compete. The only way to a better life is by defeating other people.
One of the other things that surprised me was people taking pictures. I think I had seen at least 10 people taking pictures of me in the streets. They also tend to stare for a while. But it’s great because at least there is an element of cultural exchange there.