10 Ways to Not Look Like a Tourist in Beijing 

It’s not a crime to be a tourist, and if you’re traveling to Beijing for just a week or so, there’s no denying the fact that you are one. However, if you’re planning a longer stay in Beijing and want to 入乡随俗 (do as the Romans do) and stop acting like such a newbie, then this list, inspired by a travel guide on how not to act in Tokyo, is for you:

1. It’s not always nihao
Contrary to popular belief, Chinese people don’t just say nihao as a greeting to friends and acquaintances. In the morning, they’d say 早 (morning) and around lunch and dinner time they will ask 吃了吗 (have you eaten)? In Beijing, it’s also common to ask where one is going with phrases such as “你上哪儿去?” (Nǐ shàng nǎ’er qù? To where are you going?) or “干嘛去?”(Gànma qù?What are you off to do?).

With people that are your elders or superiors, you’d say their name , title, and then 好. For example, 李老师好 (Li teacher hello).

2. Learn some erhua
Nowadays, there are so many 外地人 (nonlocals) in Beijing that you don’t need to go overboard with it, but it would still behoove you to learn some the basics of  儿话.

When a Chinese person bumps into you and says something like “excuse me”, “sorry”, or “thank you”, you can retort with the all purpose “没事儿!” (no problem).  A quick way to ingratiate yourself with your Chinese friends is to call the guys 哥们儿 and the gals 姐们儿. And, yes, taxi drivers understand Sanlitunr (三里屯儿) better than Sanlitun (三里屯).

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Took a walk around the neighborhood, down some roads I’ve never been on.  Beijing is too big to bike in the same way that you can bike New York or Chicago, and a lot of the places I go are too far to walk to, so I’ve missed this kind of on-the-ground experience in China.

baked goods in China

Baking isn’t a Chinese thing. Traditionally, breads in China are steamed, pan-fried or deep fried. So, I shouldn’t be surprised or sad that the “baguettes” tastes like crappy grocery store Italian bread. But I am. Always. 

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Tim and I waiting outside of Tous Les Jours in Wudaokou.

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Unsatisfactory “donut” at Tous Les Jours

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To be honest, I’m not sure what this is. After reading the sign and still not understanding what’s in the bread I asked an employee what is is. Apparently it’s a French style bread with nuts and fruit in the middle, but really it was a hard ass piece of bread with mysteriously bitter dried fruit and walnuts.

There’s this little shop in Wudaokou that’s just a storefront with a counter where you put down your money and are given amazing cake.  For 10 yuan (not even $2) you get a whole bag of warm cubes of cake.  We’ve (the roommates and I) have been going here after wondering what the giant line outside every night was all about.

The cake is amazing, but we still don’t really know what it is or why people line up for it for so long.  I finally looked up the characters on the awning last night and it translates to “Date cake king”.  So I guess it’s date cake, but that still leaves many mysteries unexplained…