So are Chinese people polite or not?

Three weeks ago a new Finn arrived to Guangzhou and started his few months in China. He said that it’s nice here because people are so polite and helpful. But I’m guessing that at some point he will get to the bottom of the culture shock and have not so nice things to say about Chinese. At least that’s how it usually happens with newcomers.

I can understand very well why he said that Chinese people are polite. They compliment your Chinese after hearing you say “Ni hao”, everyone wants to be your friend and get to know you.

Are these the same people who don’t bother to open their mouth behind the cash register and throw your change to the counter? Are these the same people who laugh at your bad tones? Or are these the same people who rush to take the last seat on the metro?

Chinese people can be very polite and extremely impolite at the same time. They ask about your private matters from finances to marital status. They will let you know if you are too fat for their clothes. But if you’re lucky, you can be treated to a nice cup of tea at the tea shop while brushing up your Mandarin.

A well known truth comes to my mind:

After spending a week in China, you can write a whole book about the country. After spending a month in China, you can write a really nice magazine article about it. After a few months, a blog post. And after a year, you can’t write anything, because you discover how little you actually know.

I could add that it becomes impossible to answer questions about China with a simple yes or no.

What do you think? Are Chinese people polite?