Living in Shanghai – Culture Shock!

The culture shock you will experience when living in Shanghai is probably far less than in other cities around China. The rapid development of technology and influx in expats and tourists have made Shanghai a very westernized city.

With that being said, things are still very different here than what you’re used to at home.


Rules of the Road

Contrary to what you’re familiar with, if you’re walking, you are expected to yield to everyone else. Even if you are crossing the street and have the right-of-way, you are still expected to yield to bicycles, motorbikes, cars, and buses. They will not stop for you. Once you are aware of this, it will make crossing the street a bit easier and less terrifying.


Lines or Queues

Whether it be at the metro station, the bank, or grocery store, someone will step in front of you in line and not think twice. It’s quite typical when you first arrive to just let it slide. However, after a short time living in Shanghai you will learn to hold your ground and confront them to wait their turn behind you in line. There’s too much going on in Shanghai for you to waste half your day standing in lines.



The fashions of Shanghai aren’t quite as extravagant as Tokyo or Seoul, although, you will see some interesting things you aren’t quite used to. Adults, women and men alike, wearing Hello Kitty, Mickey Mouse, or other cartoon/anime apparel is completely normal. In most major cities, office attire and a pair of Adidas are frowned upon. Not in Shanghai!

Women’s hair in rollers, couples matching outfits, and  are just a few of the



The food will be very different than what you are used to and it’s amazing! Living in Shanghai, you will find nearly every western food you can imagine, from Italian, Thai, Mexican, French and even ‘New Zealand’. In addition, the plethora of options for Chinese cuisine is out of this world. Being an expat in Shanghai allows the luxury to travel within China, however, you mustn’t leave Shanghai to get a taste for the various Chinese cuisines found in each province. They’re right here on your front door step (quite literally with food delivery e le me 饿了么).


City Sounds

 It may seem like your neighbors are always yelling at you or the scooter that just dodged you is shouting at you; they’re not. They just speak loudly and most of the time are not the least bit angry. Chinese people tend to speak at a higher volume, especially on the phone and in groups.

Other sounds within the city range from ‘It’s A Small World’, nail clipping and spitting and hawking up. Everywhere from the streets to businesses you will see, or rather hear, someone clipping their nails, spitting onto the street from their scooter or hawking up God only knows what into the bushes. All of this while ‘It’s A Small World’, chimes down the street from the street cleaning machine. No one bats an eye as it’s quite normal behavior for locals and after some time spent living in Shanghai, expats aren’t too bothered by it either.



You’re going to get pushed and shoved; on the street, in or out of the metro, on the escalator. There is no avoiding this but if you are prepared ahead of time and understand it’s not as rude of a gesture in Shanghai as it would be in your home country, you’ll be ahead of the game.

In time you’ll find yourself shoving to get off the metro at your stop and with a quick “ràng yīxià” (excuse me) you’ll be on your way in no time!



The use of the bathrooms is probably one of the most widespread differences between Western culture and Asian culture in general. While Shanghai is indeed very western compared to most cities in Asia, the squat toilet is still commonly used. You’ll be surprised the businesses that have squat toilets versus western toilets and even which ones provide tissue. Best practice in Shanghai is to always carry tissue and be prepared.


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