Chinese Holiday Culture

“You’ve tanned!” is a phrase most of us like to hear after our holiday. But do not tell that to a Chinese! On the contrary, while most Westerners like to spend as much time as possible in the sun during their holidays, Chinese prefer to carry parasols with them and do not really understand why the “laowais” (foreigners in Chinese) spend so much money just to lie on the beach for hours and to roast in the blazing sun.

The Chinese, especially the ladies, would do their utmost to maintain a fair skin, because fair skin is considered aristocratic in China, while workers and peasants who have to toil in the open air all their lives have dark skin. Light skin is a status symbol, as well as a beauty ideal many affluent Chinese aspire to. Don’t be surprised if you see Chinese ladies with ski masks covering their faces next time you take a trip to the beach. It is also not uncommon for Chinese to leave the beach after a few photos, without having dipped as much as their feet.

Holidays as we understand it is a concept completely alien to most Chinese. For us, holidays means relaxation, a retreat from everyday life. A typical Chinese holiday can look way too stressful from outside: The Eiffel Tower, Neuschwanstein Castle, the Colosseum, Big Ben: Let’s move, time’s a wastin… A bus tour of Europe will have to be crammed into 10 days. Chinese usually have 5-10 days of paid holidays. In China, the number of leave days depends on the duration of employment and on the company. Most people in China combine their rather meager vacation days with public holidays, so they can only take a 10-day trip in Europe at all. That is why they want to see as much as possible in the shortest possible amount of time. What’s important is not so much the experience in the foreign country, but the moment when one comes back, the camera packed with photos to show around.

In addition to the numerous sights, department stores, supermarkets, and luxury stores are also part of the standard sightseeing program. Perfumes, branded bags, wrist watches, vitamin supplements, cooking pots, or mouthwash, Western products are gladly dragged back home by Chinese customers. Western products, particular products with international name recognition (e.g. “Made in Germany”) enjoy a high reputation in China. “Many products here are cheaper than in China – and much better,” says a Chinese tourist. According to a joint study by the German National Tourist Board (GNTB) and the VAT provider Global Blue, the average Chinese tourist spends 610 Euros for each tax-free shopping spree in Germany, outperforming even Arab sheikhs and Russian shoppers. Chinese tourists often travel to Europe with almost empty suitcase, only to drag their suitcases back again stuffed to the brim with gifts one can then shower on family members, friends, colleagues and business partners. Gift giving has a long tradition in China. As you probably already know, the Chinese society is a “Guan Xi” society. Guanxi is a complicated network of mutual obligations and connections. Proper handling of gifts is a proof of social respectability in Chinese society.

Unlike Germans, who leave their laptops and company cell phones at home when they are on vacation, the Chinese cannot do so during their holidays. Constant connectedness is usually also demanded by superiors who often make this one of the conditions to get the holidays approved in the first place. Separation of private and professional life is not known in China. Next time you happen to be on a plane, you might notice that the Chinese are the last to turn off their mobile phones, and the first ones to turn them back on again.

You might ask, “Why have holidays at all if you cannot relax?” Tough program, intense shopping trips and constant accessibility are pure stress. But not for Chinese people! Relaxation is not necessarily a priority when you are on vacation, but rather what counts are new impressions, many new impressions.