With English a required subject in Chinese schools, more and more people have at least a basic knowledge of English. You will probably find that most people working in the tourism industry have a fairly good command of the language, as do many people working in the service industry, i.e. in stores, restaurants and even salespeople in subway stations. English is probably better understood than spoken by many, and Chinese people are notoriously afraid of making fools of themselves in public, so make sure your questions are clear and easy to answer. Two characteristics of Shanghai people are useful – traditional Chinese hospitality, where most people really want to help when asked, and Shanghai toughness.
Don’t be afraid to approach an elderly person, even an unlikely one, with an arsenal of thoughtful and explicit gestures, notes in Chinese, cards or photos if necessary. In the worst case, choose someone younger and/or in a higher position, as both are more likely to have a better grasp of English and feel more comfortable with a foreigner. Everyday Chinese is a fairly simple language, so most people won’t be offended if you also avoid polite English and focus on the most important parts of your message, e.g. “Where is subway station?” probably works better than “Would you be so kind and direct me to the nearest subway station if you will?
When haggling in stores, calculators are often used to “discuss” prices. Savvy shopkeepers in tourist areas equip their staff with them, but don’t hesitate to pull out a calculator (or a calculator app on your cell phone) if the other party doesn’t have one. Remember that “4” is an unlucky number and prices containing it should be avoided, which you can use to your advantage (for example, by offering “39” instead of 40 – whatever). Note that cab and Uber drivers are often either older, working class, or from the immigrant population, and thus as a group have a lower than average level of English. It is therefore advisable to have your destinations and hotel address written in Chinese. Some hotels even provide small brochures with the name and address of the hotel and the main tourist sites in English and simplified Chinese.
in Chinese language
The native language of most residents, Shanghainese or Wu dialect, should not be confused with Mandarin, Cantonese, Minnan (Taiwanese/Hokkien) or any other form of Chinese. The use of Shanghainese as the city’s de facto “first” language has been encouraged by the government and its use is declining, partly because of the use of Mandarin in the mass media and partly because many migrant workers from other parts of China who do not speak Shanghainese live in Shanghai. As in other parts of China, Mandarin is the lingua franca. Since Shanghai has been China’s main commercial center since the 1920s, all Shanghainese-speaking locals can also speak Mandarin, so you will have no problem speaking Mandarin with locals.
Nevertheless, attempts to speak Shanghainese are appreciated and can help you to be appreciated by the locals. Wu speakers have a particular accent when speaking Mandarin. Mandarin is heavily tone-based, and Beijing speakers are easy to understand (most textbooks rely on their accent or an approximation of it). Shanghai speakers have adopted some features of Wu into their Mandarin. While this would not be a problem in other languages, the slightest change in pronunciation can make understanding Mandarin much more difficult, as it is phonemic and tonal. It is better to say “说慢一点” (shuō màn yī diǎn), which means “speak a little slower”.
An incredibly useful resource for visitors and expatriates alike is the Shanghai Call Center. The call center was established before the Expo and is run as a public service. It is a toll-free number that provides information on bus, subway and cab directions, hours of operation and tourist attractions, and can even be used as a free translation service. If you are having trouble getting through to your cab driver or salesperson, feel free to call the number and pass the handset back and forth so the employee can translate.
The so-called “Magic Number” can be reached from cell phones in Shanghai at 962288. Chinese cell phones from other cities should dial 021 962288 and international phones should dial +86 021 962288. You will be greeted with a brief message in Mandarin, followed by a series of instructions in English. The service is available in several European languages, including English and Spanish. The service itself is free, but you pay the cost of the phone call.
One of the problems you’re likely to face is jostling rather than queuing; in fact, it can be worse in bustling Shanghai than elsewhere. Whether it’s at a ticket counter, a busy fast food outlet, or even a grocery store, everyone is jostling to meet an employee and doing everything they can to be the first in and out. If possible, avoid this situation from the start; for example, reload your metro card a little early if you see a quiet ticket counter. Pushing in the subway is normal, especially at the chaotic People’s Square station. Just jump in and push; don’t feel sorry.
However, compared to public transport in other Chinese cities, Shanghai people are better at letting people off first, and wild jostling around empty seats is not so bad – your behavior should be adapted to the situation: If the station is crowded, jostling is acceptable, but if it is not, you’ll be considered an “uncivilized foreigner” instead. During off-peak hours, stay to the right on the escalators to let people pass. Note that Shanghai Metro drivers close the doors and leave when scheduled, even if passengers are still boarding. When you hear the “door closing alarm” (usually a series of beeps), move away from the doors (especially on the older Line 1 and Line 2 trains, as the doors close very quickly and may not reopen if blocked).
Work permits and visa extensions
- Shanghai Entry and Exit Bureau, 1500 Mingsheng Rd, Pudong District, +86-21-63577925. 9-11:30 and 13:30-4:30, Monday to Friday. This office processes work permits and visa extensions. It also issues a form that consulates need if you want to replace a lost or stolen passport.
The nearest subway station is Science and Technology Museum on line 2. Exit the station at Exit 3 and head east when you leave the escalator; continue on the sidewalk heading east. There are two fairly long blocks, about a 5 minute walk. At a large intersection after the Pudong Expo building, you will see the office (a kind of oval building) on your right. The office is on the other side of the street, Ming Sheng Rd, and you can access it through the parking lot. Take the escalator to the third floor to access the foreigners’ area. (The second floor is for Chinese passports only, the second floor is for residents of Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan).
Draw a number from the ticket machine. There are different sets of numbers for different departments; an English-speaking staff member will stand by the machine to make sure you get the right number. Everyone needs a photo for the visa form and a photocopy of the main page of the passport; for an extension, you also need a photocopy of the current visa. You can get photocopies on the third floor (in the back left corner of the room, seen from the service counters) and photos on the first floor (under the escalators). Be prepared for some waiting time. The office is large and very efficient, but according to the 2010 census, more than 200,000 foreigners lived in Shanghai.
If each of them renews their visa once a year, that’s more than 750 people per working day. Expect a waiting time of 30 minutes to three hours to file an application, and three days to two weeks to process it. To minimize waiting time, it is advisable to arrive around 8:30 a.m., wait in line until 8:45 a.m. when the doors open, take a number, and hope to be served shortly after the counters open at 9:00 a.m. If you apply, you will receive a form indicating the date and cost of collecting your passport with the new visa. The pick-up is on the first floor, just to the right as you enter the building. You will have to wait in line twice, first (with the form in hand) to pay and then (with the receipt in hand) to pick up your passport.