The Chinese are experts at calmly navigating crowds, and you should expect to cop an elbow or a shove here and there while traveling here.
Queuing is not the norm in China – it really is every person for themselves. But, amid the chaos, there are a few rules for effective crowd navigation.
There's a historical bent to the tendency to elbow your way through a crowd, as one American living in Shanghai explains.
"Traveling here requires patience because it is so overcrowded. They feel like they must rush, push, eat fast, or they won't get where they need to go, or they won't get the food."
While the Chinese may find it culturally acceptable to push and shove, you might not think it's very polite.
The shoving is usually not overly violent, just enough to move you out of the way. Places notorious for this behavior include on trains, buses and metro stations, at both the ticket counter and the stop.
Being in a tight crowd can produce panic and claustrophobia in some visitors, so remove yourself from the chaos by leaning against a wall or ducking into an alleyway.
Or, act like a local and stand your ground by refusing to let anyone past you in the queue or shoving back those that shove you.
This Western cultural tendency doesn't exist in China. If there is an empty seat beside you in a restaurant, expect it to be filled by a local, even if you make it clear you just want to sit with your group. If there's an available nook or cranny, people in China will attempt to fill it.
This diluted concept of personal space can also take on a tender aspect, as it's common to see people holding hands or hooking arms while walking down the street.
It is also normal for Chinese people to stare. It's not out of rudeness as much as curiosity, especially if you are blonde, have red hair or if you are a person of color – something many local people don't often see.
Time off work is scarce in China, so many people travel during the few holidays they can, such as Chinese New Year.
This means high-touristed areas become even more packed during peak holiday times.
It will be impossible to avoid the mad rush in many places. If you are visiting popular sites like The Great Wall, either reconsider your travel dates or, if that isn't possible, get away from the crowds by going further up the landmark, where there will be fewer people.
Travel off-peak and go out when there are fewer people (late afternoon for lunch instead of 1pm, when everyone is having lunch), and you'll be fine.
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