Learn a thing or two on Chinese etiquette to avoid being flummoxed on your trip

Chinese family dining and toasting
Chinese family dining and toasting
Image source: kid101.com


Many foreigners, especially Americans feel uncomfortable to the point of sometimes feeling violated when it comes to being introduced to a new culture which is not their own – and starkly different from the one they come from. It happens very often while traveling if you’re not prepared and know what to expect.

For instance, Asian culture is almost always diametrically opposite to what Westerners do in their everyday life. There is hardly any right or wrong, it’s just different ways of life and the lifestyle that you’re accustomed to and you’ll have to get a proper idea of what to expect when you’re somewhere else and more importantly, what to do in such situations. So, today I am going to discuss some of the things you can expect to witness in the biggest country in Asia as well as the world, China. Pay close attention to it and take away what you can –

  • Chinese believe in the thought process of every man for themselves outside their own circle of people, whether personal relationship or business association. The culture is built upon the idea of ‘survival of the fittest’. So try not to lose your cool if someone jabs an elbow into your ribs in a crowded place or cuts the line to get to the front without taking permission from the person at the front or a car overtakes your cab in a way that will bring one-fingered wave from any driver in LA.
  • The idea of privacy is a lot different in China than it is in America. Generally, because Americans are used to large free spaces which are hard to come by to an overpopulated country like China. Especially, when it comes to the same gender there is a chance people will assume that you’re comfortable with unnecessary touching (not like hugging more like on a crowded train or bus where same-sex people are perfectly content standing in proximities that will send an Americans eyebrows lost so far back on their foreheads that there will be danger of it disappearing it into one’s hairline). More importantly, you may want to think about using the public washrooms in China or want to be at least forewarned that some of the dividers in those washrooms are so low that you can practically have a conversation while in the process of relieving yourself. Yes, no kidding!
  • Seniority is a matter of great importance to many Asian cultures. It is also that way in China. You are supposed to address the senior most people in a room first when you walk inside. And also, get up when someone enters a room and keep standing till they have taken a seat.
  • Again we come to the invasion of privacy question. The idea of privacy is different in people of a different culture as well as of different temperament. Don’t let questions like ‘how come your nose is too thick?’ or ‘how come you’re still unmarried?’ let you throw off the track.
  • Eating is a process which is greatly esteemed by Chinese people. So, in case you have made friends during your tour and they have invited you to eat with those to a restaurant please do not try to share the expenses, because you will only embarrass yourself as well as your hosts. It’s okay to offer once but sharing expense is not an idea entertained in the general custom.
  • While we are on the topic of food, table manners are a lot different in China than they are in America. Talking loudly or eating loudly are not things which are looked down upon in the culture. But there are some other sets of rules that are followed by the locals, like no licking your chopsticks, not putting your chopsticks in the rice because it looks like the incense those are burnt at the deathbed, serving your own food is fine but don’t be baffled if your host puts some food on your plate don’t be surprised. It is a way of welcoming the guest with offering morsels of food grain, at last leaving a bit of the food grain on the table is considered table manner which implies that the host was able to offer you sumptuous amount of food for you to feel well-fed. Do not leave too much though, because that will imply that the food wasn’t good enough.
  • The tradition of using chopsticks is not only limited to China. Countries like Vietnam, North Korea, and South Korea all use chopsticks as their tableware and it can be put to versatile use too. The invention of chopsticks actually shows the great wisdom and the ingrained simplicity of ancient people.
  • Drinking etiquettes are as good as eating manners. You wait for your host to make a toast first and then start drinking. But beware of the series of drinks that you’re going to be offered. If you’re feeling you don’t want to be completely wasted in a foreign country, you just have to make a polite excuse and toast with your glass of water. Oh! And remember that toasts are made rotationally when you’re among friends, so be prepared for your turn.

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