Every culture is different. And what passes for offensive in some places is perfectly normal in others. In certain parts of the world, burping at a meal table is highly offensive. In others it is a compliment to the cook. Questions that would be inappropriate to ask in one country may be completely innocuous and normal in another.
In America, talking about money is almost invariably unwelcome. Unless you are a hip-hop star making it rain in your latest video, discussing how much wealth you have or your current income is frowned upon. But in China, questions about such things are normal. When sitting and talking with residents of Changchun, I rarely make it more than five or six questions before I am asked what my job was in America, and how much it paid. I haven’t found the conversation uncomfortable. I understand that the question does not carry the same jealousy or competitive intentions that it might back home. But I still find myself needing to explain after revealing my income. Having lived in San Francisco the last few years, my salary was much higher than the standard of living it actually afforded. Had I earned half as much money and lived in Wichita, Kansas, I might well have been ahead financially in the long run. So I always seem to be saying “Well it paid this much, but understand my rent was…”
The bluntness extends to other topics as well. It wouldn’t be unusual for Chinese citizens to bluntly point out obesity, or an unusual scar, or a strange hair color, or a birth defect, with no more emotion than if they were giving a weather report. A typical overweight American visiting China will likely be directly told they are fat on a regular basis, which can be quite offputting coming from a society that has spent the last 25 years trying to be politically correct. There is no malicious intent. The locals are just describing reality as it is, not conveying an emotion or an insult. It is definitely not a land for the butthurt.
The one aspect of decorum I still struggle with a bit is the open peeing and pooping by children. In talking with friends who have come to China in the last few years, I get the sense it is in decline. It used to be somewhat common to see un-pottytrained toddlers (wearing “split-pants”) squatting wherever they happened to be, even in a grocery store, and defecating on the floor. Or to see parents holding their children over a wastebasket in a park and letting them poop right into the basket. In my first four weeks here I have seen around one example a week of a child, usually male, just peeing wherever they happened to be. The most recent was outside the local Walmart, right on the sidewalk in full view of dozens of people waiting to get taxis. Mother and grandmother waited for him to finish, then took his hand and started looking for a cab, like it was the most normal thing in the world.
Somehow I think the reaction might be a bit different if The Bearded Giant did it…