Each country has different customs that you should follow whenever it’s needed. And China has very own and peculiar traditions.
If you are planning to go to China, either for work or to see the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, or the Terracotta, there will be several things you need to know.
Chinese customs when…
… Greeting – If you come from a country like America where people hug or European countries where people kiss each other on the cheeks, you will have to refrain from doing so in China. Chinese people are very private and to greet it will be best to go with a handshake or a nod of the head.
… Drinking – If you are going to China on a business trip, there is a chance you will get invited for a drink. Chinese mostly consume an alcoholic beverage called baijiu which is served in cups. You should make a toast, by saying “Ganbei!” before you take a sip. If you feel that you are pressured into drinking too much, you can raise your cup to your mouth and pretend to take a sip.
… Eating – When you are invited out for dinner, there are things you need to be aware of. First off, do not plant your two chopsticks upright on your rice. It is a faux pas as it looks like the positioning of incense when someone died. Also don’t point or gesture at anyone with your chopsticks. Secondly, in a formal dinner, the host will be the one assigning seats, ordering food, and paying- this is final, if you insist on paying, you are not respecting him. Lastly, expect your host to offer you food or even putting some into your plate, it is their way of treating you as their guest: by giving you the dishes they deem are best in quality.
… Hosting – If you have your own place and are receiving guests, make sure that you have slippers ready since the Chinese take off their shoes and wear slippers at homes. When you receive compliments such as “What a beautiful place you have”, reply with a humble statement such as “It’s nothing” because you do not want to seem arrogant. When you offer drinks or food, expect to be turned down several times before your guests “hesitantly” accept after some persuasion. Also, avoid conversation topics regarding politics and comparing China to your home country.
… Giving gifts – When you visit a Chinese home, make sure to bring a gift with you. Some wine or sweets or even toys for their children will be appreciated. Wrap it in red, as it is a color that symbolizes joy and avoid white because it is a color associated with funerals.
If you do not look particularly Asian, you will be at the receiving end of stares. It will help you to know several Chinese words for basic communication as it shows the local folks your effort to learn their language. Make sure that you know at least ni hao (how are you) and xie xie (thank you). To learn more basic phrases check our Basic Chinese Phrases thread.