Polite here / rude there; polite there / rude here, is the basic way of culture. Overcoming the need for the ‘ways my mom taught me’ to be proper for all, is a tough one. And there is also the issue of public / private manners, or in which situations do ‘good manners’ apply, however ‘good manners’ are interpreted. Prior to arriving in Beijing, we braced ourselves for spitting, staring, jostling, butting in, and cars to clip our toes in crosswalks; have seen all that. But we didn’t expect the number of people we have seen who have given up their seats to others on trains and buses, who smile before we do, who let us play with their babies, and offer help when we are lost in a train station or pouring over our map on the street.
Our queries of strangers are occasionally met with slightly horrified expressions, but more often with helpfulness. As our Chinese language can be rated as pre-infantile, we are immensely appreciative of any direction, even if slightly off course. Hotel / hostel staff may first appear aloof, but typically warm up quickly to greetings, thank you’s, and apologies in Mandarin, important early key words. The learning continues.