China and the Concept of Personal Space
Chinese people are many things—ambitious, competitive, hard-working, high-achieving and, outwardly anyway, humble. One thing they are not, however, is shy. If you’re anywhere near a major city (and this is likely to be the case, given that there are an astounding 91 metropolitan areas in China with a population exceeding one million), you’re going to be pushed, smothered, and have people in your face constantly. The best way to deal with this is to prepare yourself mentally before you come—it’s going to happen, so no use in getting upset about it.
First, if you happen to be waiting in a queue to get in anywhere—be it airport check-in, a market, the subway or anywhere else—you probably will be sandwiched between two strangers so tightly you can’t breathe. In the case of the subway, you may find yourself not even having to exert any of your own energy to get up the stairs—simply let the mass wave of inertia surrounding you whisk you away.
Second, just as you will face crowds, people in those crowds will try to cut in front of you. Whether they employ the direct strategy (i.e. elbowing you in the side and never turning their head while they take your place in line) or the subtle (waiting for the moment you look at your iPhone’s playlist to slide in front of you), it’s going to happen. Get used to it.
That’s not to say there isn’t anything you can do to make dealing with a crowds a little more manageable—you just may not be so comfortable with it if you’re from a place where manners in public actually exist. You’ll save yourself mounds of frustration, and perhaps even earn a little respect from those behind you, if you get comfortable with the idea of throwing your body mass into the person in front of you. If you have the right mindset, it’s actually kind of fun after awhile, and it will make sure you’re doing your part to keep the crowd funneling its way forward.