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5 Must-Know Differences of Cultures in China vs. the West

Get prepared before your arrival of au pairing in China!

While an au pair journey promises a fulfilling experience, adjusting to a new country and connecting with your Chinese host family may present unique challenges. Many previous au pairs have encountered misunderstandings when living with the families. Usually, the differences emerge without our conscious awareness.

In this blog, we will delve into five cultural differences that au pairs might encounter when dealing with Chinese host families, providing some helpful tips to navigate your journey whether you are yet to come or arrived in China already.

1. Varied Values and Traditions

Chinese culture is deeply rooted in rich traditions and values that shape family dynamics. From respecting elders to emphasizing educational achievements, understanding these cultural aspects will foster harmonious relationships with your host family.

Some host families live with their grandparents under one roof and it is possible that you have to get along with the seniors as well. Filial piety, known as “孝” in Chinese culture, is a concept deeply rooted in the importance of respecting and caring for one’s parents and elders. As an au pair, you can make an effort to engage in conversations, express genuine interest in their stories and traditions, and participate in family activities that involve senior family members. Additionally, you can contribute to the well-being of their host parents and elderly family members by assisting with daily tasks, showing kindness, and offering companionship. Small gestures of care and appreciation, such as helping with household chores or spending quality time together, can go a long way in building trust and fostering a sense of filial piety.

As an au pair in China, Alex noticed that his host family appreciated his willingness to help with household chores. One evening, after dinner, Alex offered to wash the dishes. The family politely declined, saying it wasn't necessary. However, understanding the importance of contributing to the household, Alex insisted on helping with the dishes and showed more initiative in sharing the household responsibilities. This gesture impressed the family and strengthened the bond between them, showcasing the value of mutual respect and responsibility in Chinese culture.

2. Comparatively Indirect Communication Styles

Chinese communication patterns may differ from what you are accustomed to. Politeness, indirectness, and non-verbal cues play vital roles in Chinese interactions. Chinese communication tends to be more indirect, relying on subtlety and context, while western styles often prioritize directness. Au pairs should be attentive to nonverbal cues, use active listening, and read between the lines to grasp underlying messages. Learning these nuances will facilitate effective communication and strengthen your bond with the host family.

Moreover, since our program promote cross-cultural communication, it is always encouraged to solve problems and resolve misunderstandings with open dialogues. Every WE au pair will have their own program coordinator, families and au pairs can always directly communicate with their coordinators openly about their needs, expectations for each other. This can help both families and au pairs to gain what they wished for in this au pair journey.

One evening, an au pair named Emily wanted to inquire about staying out past the curfew with her host family in China. Aware of the indirect communication style, she approached the topic carefully. When she asked if it was possible to come home later, the host parents hesitated in their response but didn't outright refuse. Sensing their reservation, Emily expressed her understanding and assured them that she would always prioritize their rules and guidelines. This considerate approach helped foster trust and open communication between Emily and her host family, ensuring a harmonious living arrangement throughout her stay.

3. Expectations on Childcare and Education

Education is highly valued in China, and parents often have high expectations for their children's academic performance. Familiarize yourself with the host family's educational goals and discuss how you can contribute to their children's learning journey. They believe that a strong educational foundation is crucial for their children’s future success and opportunities. They closely monitor their children’s progress, provide additional tutoring or resources if needed, and prioritize education above other activities.

As an au pair, Jessica understood the significance of education in her Chinese host family. To help the parents better understand their children's daily activities and educational progress, she started summarizing each day's events in a journal-like format. She included details about the children's schoolwork, extracurricular activities, and any learning milestones. The parents were deeply appreciative of Jessica's effort and dedication to their children's education. This daily summary not only strengthened their trust in Jessica but also allowed them to actively engage in their children's learning journey, creating a harmonious partnership in fostering the kids' academic growth.

For you as an au pair, Chinese families usually expect au pairs to speak English with the family child(ren) to improve their English. Apart from speaking English, au pairs may be inquired to communicate with the school and go to school meetings (usually in international schools where teachers speak English.) You can be a mentor and role model: Show genuine interest in the children’s education and act as a positive influence. Offer assistance with homework, provide guidance, and encourage a love for learning. If you encounter difficulties or feel overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to reach out to WE and your coordinator for support and advice.

4. Dining Etiquette

Chinese dining customs may differ from what you are accustomed to. Chinese dining etiquette places importance on proper table manners. It is customary to wait for the host or the eldest person to start eating before beginning your own meal. Chew with your mouth closed and avoid making loud noises while eating. Use utensils such as chopsticks or spoons appropriately, and avoid pointing them directly at others. When using chopsticks, it is considered impolite to spear or stab food with them.

Moreover, in Chinese culture, communal dining is common. Dishes are usually served family-style, with various dishes placed in the center of the table for everyone to share. When serving yourself, it is polite to take moderate portions, leaving enough for others. Additionally, it is customary to offer food to others before serving yourself as a gesture of generosity. And after finishing, it is considered polite to finish the food on your plate as it indicates that you have enjoyed the meal. Leaving a small amount of food is acceptable, but leaving a significant amount may be seen as wasteful or disrespectful. However, it is important not to overeat or take more than you can finish.

During dinner with her Chinese host family, Laura, an au pair, noticed a plate of delicious sweet and sour pork that she particularly enjoyed. However, eager to express her love for the dish, she ended up eating almost half of it. Sensing that she might have unintentionally taken more than her fair share, Laura immediately apologized and explained her genuine enthusiasm for the meal. The host family, understanding her excitement, chuckled warmly and appreciated her honesty. They reassured Laura that her eagerness was endearing, but also gently reminded her about the importance of moderation and sharing during communal dining. This light-hearted exchange strengthened their bond and helped Laura become more mindful of Chinese dining customs. From then on, she made a conscious effort to take moderate portions and ensure there was enough for everyone, while still savoring the flavors of her favorite dishes.

5. Privacy and Personal Space

Chinese households often prioritize communal living, and privacy expectations may vary. Open discussions with your host family about your need for personal space can help establish clear boundaries and ensure your comfort throughout your stay.

During her au pair experience in China, Emma noticed that her host family had a different perspective on privacy. One day, Emma was surprised when the host parents entered her room without prior notice. She felt a bit uncomfortable and decided to have an open conversation with them about her need for personal space. To her delight, the parents were understanding and appreciative of her communication. They explained that in Chinese culture, entering each other's rooms is considered normal and not seen as invasive. At the same time, they acknowledged Emma's perspective and assured her that they would respect her boundaries moving forward. This honest and respectful dialogue strengthened the trust between Emma and her host family, creating a harmonious living environment where both cultural values and individual needs were respected.

By acknowledging and appreciating these cultural differences, you can establish strong bonds and create meaningful connections with your Chinese host family. Wanderlust Exchange (WE) is dedicated to supporting you throughout your au pair journey, providing guidance on cultural integration, effective communication, and resolving any challenges that may arise.

Remember, by partnering with WE, you can focus on what truly matters – cultural exchange, language learning, self-exploration, and providing exceptional childcare. Let us be your dedicated partner, ensuring a seamless and rewarding au pair experience that encompasses personal growth, cultural immersion, and cherished memories.

Choose Wanderlust Exchange and embark on an unforgettable journey with unwavering support at every step.


Wanderlust Exchange encourages the exploration of self-awareness and personal development , and fostering of global understanding. We desire to bridge cultural divide and contribute to build the world with more trust, understanding and diversity among all.

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