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北京 VS 上海 Beijing VS Shanghai!


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I am living in Shanghai at the moment, but I used to live in Beijing, a few years ago, for one year.

I have noticed so many differences between the two cities...just superficial things but quite interesting, for example:

-No-one in Shanghai is carrying a sun umbrella.

-Everyone is NOT carrying around a jar with tea in it in Shanghai.

-No-one stares at me because I am a foreigner in Shanghai (except for a few 外地人, migrant workers)

-I can see the sky! The sun is not ecplised by pollution! It rains!

-Shanghainese are less willing to speak in Chinese with me than Beijingers were, they are always speaking to me in English. I have encountered many more people speaking fluent English than I ever did in Beijing.

-Shanghainese do not ask me loads of questions about where I am from, am I married etc, except very occaisionally.

-Shanghai taxi drivers don't take you the wrong way around the ring-road, they generally just take you directly where you want to go!

-Shanghai taxi drivers don't talk constantly to you like Beijing taxi drivers used do, about politics etc.

-Supermarkets are all selling cheese and chocolate in Shanghai, albeit horrible cheese. When I lived in Beijing, those things were fairly rare outside of foreigner supermarkets.

-Shanghainese kind of dress the same as Europeans. Don't know what I mean by this really, not good and not bad, just different. I remember the style in Beijing being very distinct from European style, more "cute" with bows and frills, and extremely tight jeans for the girls. Here it's more plain, black black and black, simple but elegant. Guys in jeans, shirt and cat boots or something. Like Europe.

-Tea does not seem to be served in restaurants automatically for free in Shanghai.I have not seen it yet.

-Many less 家常菜 home-style cooking restaurants in Shanghai than Beijing.

-Many more foreign, eg Japanese, Thai or European restaurants in Shanghai than in Beijing.

-Some feeling of Shanghainese being slightly "cold"

-Last but NOT least, somehow feeling the influence of politics much less in Shanghai. Less political slogans in big characters...this one is hard to define.

I don't want anyone to think I am criticizing Beijing or Shanghai, I like both cities, I have a soft spot for Beijingers and their warmth and openness, their nice accent.

I am just interested in the differences you have all have noticed, and also how much of these differences are actually due to the fact that I haven't yet been back to Beijing.

Whats everyone's opinion on this?

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I agree that generally taxi drivers are less chatty in Shanghai, but then I was told yesterday by a driver here in Beijing that taxi companies are now all telling their employees to avoid engaging in casual conversation with passengers, especially foreigners and out-of-towners. Some taxi drivers in Shanghai are actually quite willing to talk, they often only wait for you to make the first move.

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About cab drivers, I certainly agree with Rose, but I think one of the reasons is that many middle-aged Shanghaiese don't speak very good Putonghua, and thus aren't really eager to speak chat away in their non-native 话.

Some feeling of Shanghainese being slightly "cold"

My theory on this, and some may disagree, is that this goes back to the language issue. If you have been to China, and if you can speak even just a bit of Putonghua, I’m sure you’ve had the warm experience of speaking a simple sentence Putonghua, and then seen the eyes light up the Chinese person you a re talking to, with a broad smile, and way too many compliments than are necessary. This emotional reaction to the foreigner speaking Putonghua happens less frequently in Shanghai. If you can speak a bit of Shanghaihua, however, you will see this encouraging reaction.

I think this is because the working language of the city is still Shanghaihua. Most young Shanghaiese or educated Shanghaiese speak perfectly proficient Putonghua, but it is confined to use in commerce and education and other official spheres, whereas Shanghaihua is the language of family, close relationships, humor, slang...etc. So, when a foreigner speaks Putonghua in Shanghai, it’s a bit like a Japanese person speaking English in the Netherlands. Sure, communication will probably be achieved, but the Dutch guy is unlikely to care very much about the Japanese guy’s English ability. (Don’t take this analogy too literally).

As far as politics, I somewhat like the fact that Beijing is more political. It seems to me that Beijingers are more informed, as far as news and politics as well.

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I've only been living in Shanghai so I can't make a direct comparison. Some things I've noticed is:

1. The respect and concept of First Come First Serve and what is a Line. Not being able to read Chinese menus very well yet, I often hit McDonalds or KFC. I will be standing in line waiting my turn and people will walk right in front of me as though I am not there. I was even in the process of ordering once and a guy came up from behind waving his money trying to order in front of me. Luckily, the counter person told him he had to wait.

2. Along the same lines, while at a bank and at the teller window, I've had people come up to the window where I'm conducting business and start talking to the teller or worse, yelling at employees in the back.

3. Yelling. People yelling at the top of their lungs at each other in a bank and other public businesses.

4. Straight up descrimination. I wanted a hair cut. The prices clearly posted on a board in front ot the business but when I asked I was told it was double that price (should be 15 kuai, was told it is 30 kuai). When I came back with a native Shanghaiese, it came out that the 30 kuai price was for foreigners or foreign students.

5. Fellow foreigners. I've found fellow western (US or European) foreigners are more stand off-ish than the local people.

I would like to know if these things also happen in Beijing.

Regarding speaking Putong hua in Shanghai. I've had very good responses when speaking putong hua in Shanghai. I've been complemented many times on my Chinese even though my vocabulary and grammar is not so hot.

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The respect and concept of First Come First Serve and what is a Line. Not being able to read Chinese menus very well yet, I often hit McDonalds or KFC. I will be standing in line waiting my turn and people will walk right in front of me as though I am not there. I was even in the process of ordering once and a guy came up from behind waving his money trying to order in front of me. Luckily, the counter person told him he had to wait.

Hehe. Recently, I've started yelling at people who do this: 排队!" :x or "你不知道"排队"这个词吗?" :evil: and it gets a bit more rude from there. I'm not sure if it is worth it though. I get into an extreme "I dislike this country" mood for more than an hour, which is really unhealthy.

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Have you been here long Wolveri?

We all have our own reactions to queuing issues, mine is to fight my way past anyone that butts in in front of me. That's what I reccommend. But do it in a cold, "I am not losing face by losing my composure" kind of way, smile coldly and say 對不起, whilst getting back into your original place in the line!

By the way, I found out recently that "queueing" doesn't exist in U.S. English...so I can say "你不知道queueing這個詞嗎?!":mrgreen:

How much of what I have noticed about Shanghai is actually the same in Beijing now?

Interesting points about 上海話. I am learning it...but seem to fall back into the comfort zone of Mandarin a lot...

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I really didn't care for Shanghai when I was there. It seems to be that a lot of people really like Beijing and a lot of people really like Shanghai but for whatever reasons they don't like both. Maybe the class New York City vs Chicago battle in the USA?

In terms of people cutting in line that gets really irritating. I've found that yelling at the offender does very little, they just kind of tune you out.

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Iam origially from Wuxi, a city next to Shanghai. I am very familiar with Shanghai and have as much love for it as for my hometown. Now I am studying in Beijing. Although I havent been used to the life in Beijing after spending a semseter here, I do love Beijing because it has something that makes it distiguished from other cities of China, that is the traditional Chinese culture.

And about your feelings toward the difference between the two cities, it is not that Shanghainese never use sun umbrellas; it is just that most time of the year in Shanghai area the weather is either cloudy or rainy. It is true many Shanghainese have a more international view and would like to speak English with foreign friends. Ironically, Shanghainese tend to speak the Shanghai dialect instead of Mandarin even though they already know people they are talking to are not locals. It is not a problem for people living in the cities around Shanghai for we share the same dialect. But for those people from other areas of China, Shanghai dialect is as no easier than a foreign language.

I think some of what you have mentioned is just the difference between the northern China and southern China.There is a widely received stereotype in China that southern people are fairly astute and good with money while northern people are very enthusiastic and straightforward. And I think this is not only some cultural stuff, but also a result of "the north and the south" phenomenon in the economic development of China.

For both Shanghai and Beijing, I think it is only when you communicate with the locals that you realize that they have a lot more depth than at your first sight.

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  • 7 years later...

thanks for the input skylee , but as per google maps [ im not sure if its reliable ]

by bus :

from 南苏州路445

to 徐汇区淮海中路

its gonna take me at least 1hr unlike taxi - 18mins....and you are telling metro, do you know if the subway stops anywhere near my destination ?

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  • 1 month later...

@Rose~ - you've learned so much about Shanghai in such a short time!

The "Beijing Vs. Shanghai" ongoing debate is a neverending one. :D But come on, let's face it...Shanghai is the best place to be. ;-)

Many foreigners living in Beijing prefer it...until they move to Shanghai and realize the system just works better in Shanghai.

Yours Truly,

Very Biased

But no, on a serious note: to each his own. Each and every city in China is absolutely awesome.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I haven't spent much time in BJ, thinking of studying there the next few years. Been in Shanghai since 2012, to study....what...a struggle. Do yourself a favor get a job here dont study or immerse here...

- Outside of Hong Kong I dont think there is a more stratified city in China. There is still a wall sentiment towards the locals and the foreigners, local show a great deal of hostility to just about anyone not speaking Shanghainese due to weather, over population and again, wealth gaps.

- The expat population here works they do not study and very very few speak a word of Chinese and have been living in Ameri-town Pudong since 1994. Being a foreigner in a world business capital and studying Mandarin is about as isolating as being the only Welsh in British pub.

- The migrant crowd uses English first and even among themselves. This makes Mandarin CLEARLY the second language in Shanghai especially when you are only using it on the street.

- High returnee crowd from the US/UK. What young Chinese will want to converse with you in Mandarin when theyve been studying in English since grade 3, have gone abroad and are expected to use it in their daily life.

- A Business city not a cultural city. Shanghai is a work hard party hard city, its convenience and concession leads to a culture of abundance and activity that is not exactly enriching in my opinion. 10 hours speaking English at work and you're either going home alone or to the bar to drop a good 1k with the boys club which is often non Chinese speaking....they leave that to their local guys.

-Roomates who prefer Westerners to use to practice English, otherwise get out...i have one now that hates speaking to me in Mandarin another told me he wouldnt rent and speak with me in Mandarin. Another one asked me to find her a foreign roomate to help her speak Mandarin.

I found very very little to like about Shanghai in terms of studying and in terms of working and the culture of the city. Then again I'm older and don't like to party/ go to clubs/nightlife sort of stuff. If you are the high-energy, entrepreneureal type that just wants to learn a little Mandarin to get by, go for it -- this is your wheelhouse. Otherwise its going to a lonely affair where Mandarin is a business not part of the culture....if there is a culture here....


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Re Ethan's #13, I think it is shallow to say that Shanghai does not have culture. (It is impossible, not that I like Shanghai that much.) But obviously Ethan is not happy with his Shanghai experience. Too bad I don't have any useful suggestions as my own city is probably even worse in others' views.

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  • 2 weeks later...


If you want to practice your Chinese, just speak it to people. Even if people speak back to you in English, speak to them in Chinese. Even though a lot of people here can speak English, their english is not always that great, so as you start talking, they will probably switch to Chinese for areas they're not comfortable with. I find it's better to find people whose English is about the same level of Chinese as you or even less, as that means they will probably end up speaking to you in Chinese.

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  • 9 months later...

I must say I am quite firmly in the Beijing camp now, although on paper there are a lot of things I should like more about Shanghai. But at the end of the day I feel there are a lot more interesting places and people in Beijing. So many locals and foreigners with an interesting background, interests and hobbies rather than just a good corporate job. 


Lots of music, modern culture, bars, pubs with an artistic feel. Beijing has tons of clubs for pretentious people, both expats and locals like Shanghai, and they are ok every once in a while, but hardly something that distinguishes Shanghai in my opinion. 


As much as I dislike the weather, pollution and daily grind of Beijing there are still so many things to do, experience and discover that as long as I have the energy for it I'll certainly prefer staying in Beijing over Shanghai.  

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In Beijing, when we have a foreign visitor come up from Shanghai we always praise the city.

"Oh Shanghai!  What a wonderful city!  So clean, such great restaurants, so orderly.  And so convenient, I mean it's so close to China".

:P :P :P :P :P :P 

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