Shanghai Tips: First time in China

It’s Shanghai, Baby! Whooo-hooo! My very first visit to China was not as scandalous as the novel very first visit to China the same name. But there was one thing that no intercultural communication seminar could prepare me for. Because live and in color, it takes some getting used to when a complete stranger from China snots in front of your feet in the middle of the sidewalk. Other countries, other customs. Spitting in the street is normal, says every travel guide, and is the content of every culture shock training.

I didn’t want to believe it until the first guy next to me on the street in Shanghai took a deep breath and pulled everything disturbing out of his throat with such a roar that I was afraid stomach contents would follow. Well, before Chinese stomach contents I had already lost any shyness – on the outbound flight someone was sick, I do not elaborate now, and since you can not on a 10-hour flight as on the short haul just cowardly call the cleaning crew at the next landing… it was then: Rubber gloves on and through. Hashtag #momentsindenichtheshortstretchmisses.

Apart from that, Chinese are said to do quite other bad things, especially at the table. Standing in line is not so popular either. In general, Mr. Knigge would probably have a fit at so much boorish behavior. Bad, bad.

skyline in pudong shanghai china

Etiquette for China: What are they like, the Chinese?

I was very pleasantly surprised. Sometimes it is not wrong at all to imagine a foreign culture in the worst colors before the first visit! Except for the spitting, I felt comfortable in Shanghai. Well, there’s still some room for improvement in terms of service, but I explained that to myself with the hammer-and-sickle thing. May not be intended that way. But otherwise: really nice people.

Travel preparation for China

China is a fascinating country, but some customs and rules of behavior are very unfamiliar. This little booklet helped me a lot to understand the Chinese culture a bit better and to avoid some pitfalls.

Buy your copy on Amazon*

Especially the Chinese colleague who wrote down an improvised English-Chinese menu for me to show on the outbound flight without being asked, so that I wouldn’t get completely desperate when praising the meals. On the return flight, with her help, I even dared to pronounce it: there was “njiuu-rhooo” or “chuuu-rhooo”. Beef or pork. Or something like that. In any case, our guests laughed a lot. Well, what do you do.

Shanghai Sights & Tips

Shanghai is a city of modernity. Skyscrapers, always higher, always bigger, always more – in Pudong you can see this especially. There is said not to have been a single modern building there as recently as the 1980s. Unimaginable. Shanghai is growing at a fast pace. This is also one of the must-sees in Shanghai: once up on one of the giant skyscrapers, like here on the Shanghai World Financial Center. (That’s the building that looks like a bottle opener.) The trip up to the 100th floor on the skywalk can basically be saved, the 94th or a coffee in the Hilton in the 91st should actually do it. The glass floor on the 100th floor is not that spectacular, because you are basically only looking at another part of the building. (But I had to go to the top for 25€).

You can also learn more about China in my China Blog

Looking for historical relics, we first got stuck in the old town around the Yu Yuan Garden. But it has a strong Disneyland character here. Somehow fake everything. At least we had typical dumplings(Xiao Long Bao) at the famous Nan Xiang Restaurant. Not a superior gourmet experience, but the atmosphere upstairs in the restaurant felt like China.

yu yuan garden shanghai china

I especially liked Xintiandi, the old French quarter with a few well-preserved beautiful little houses, the shikumen. A few streets are unfortunately extremely frilly with western gourmet restaurants and stores; especially there it lacks flair. But otherwise there is a lot to discover on foot, there are many small, fancy stores and great cafes.

xitiandi shanghai
xitiandi shanghai
xitiandi shanghai

Eating and drinking in Shanghai: My Shanghai tips

My personal small selection, tried and found good:

Hongdae Bear (Xintiandi) – Korean coffee shop with coffee specialties for 5€ (yikes!), but extra nice and with fancy ingredients (black pepper!)

Xitiandi Shanghai
xitiandi shanghai
hongdae bear cafe shanghai

Nan Xiang Restaurant (Yu Yuan Garden, Old Town): here you can eat stuffed dumplings, the Xiao Long Bao – downstairs people are queuing, upstairs you can sit comfortably.

xiao long bao at naniang restaurant

1221 The Dining Room (Zhongshan Park) – Shanghai cuisine for beginners, cozy atmosphere and everything is so delicious!

Coconut Paradise – good Thai food, secluded garden, excellent cocktails.

Crystal Jade (Xintiandi) – actually a large chain, Chinese cuisine, great selection, dignified-beautiful ambience.

food crystal jade shanghai

Reading tips + travel guide for Shanghai:

Lonely Planet Pocket Shanghai*
Geo Special: Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong*
Shanghai Baby (novel)*


All articles about China:


Hey there! I created The Happy Jetlagger in 2015 to gather all those lovely places I got to know during my trips. Working many years as a flight attendant, I finally found a way to share my travel experience. Hope you enjoy it!

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