I was in Shenzhen, China, and a family stopped me and my wife and asked us (my friend interpreted) if they could have their children take a photo with us. They were visitors from the interior of the country, and had never seen an American before.

A similar thing happened in Shanghai. This time I was alone walking across the Waibaidu Bridge, and a group of teenage girls asked me (using sign language this time) if I could pose with them for a photo. I was happy to oblige, and I recall them all giggling as the photo was taken. (I wish I had a copy.)

Another surprise: I was in Pudong (the newly rebuilt area of Shanghai) and I couldn’t find the entrance to the subway (a two stop line between Pudong and the Bund). I approached a man who was walking near me, showed him the ticket I had for the ride, and he nodded vigorously. Then he indicated I should follow. We went about 4 blocks; he pointed to the entrance, smiled, turned and walked away. I had no time to offer him a tip, which (in retrospect) was a good thing because it might have been taken as an insult. I couldn’t believe that he had taken so much trouble for a stranger.

Again, similar experiences repeated themselves across China. The friendliness of the people, their courtesy, and their eagerness to help was wonderful. I don’t know if that classifies as “cultural shock” but it made me think about the US, and how I rarely experience such courtesy in my own country.

Answer by Richard Muller

What is your most memorable cultural shock?

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