Need to know: the Dos and Donts when traveling to China
- On March 29, 2017
- By Cez Krol
- In Tips for travellers
No matter where on this earth you travel to, having a basic understanding of the customs of the people that inhabit your destination of choice is crucial. In China, a land so vastly different than our own, there are particular ways in which we’ve learned one is expected to conduct oneself in order to be deemed respectable. Having good manners is extremely important here, and in order to convey to others that you possess these, you must be mindful of how you dress, dine, and interact with those around you.
To explain in further detail, we broke down scenarios you’re bound to encounter and guide you through them.
Giving or receiving gifts…
When you are invited to visit another in their home, it is customary to bring a gift. A great choice is a food basket; bonus if you can give in quantities of eight, as this represents an omen of good fortune. When you present the gift, always do so with two hands.
Other times you may bring gifts: Chinese New Year, weddings, births, and birthdays.
Side note: reserve the giving of flowers for funerals. Similarly, cutting utensils like scissors and knives make poor gifts for they represent the severing of relationships, while clocks, handkerchiefs and straw sandals are also to be avoided in gift-giving because of their affiliation with death.
When you’re receiving a gift, it’s good practice to refuse it the first time it is presented to you. After two or three attempts, it is deemed okay to accept. At this point though, do not open the gift.
When dining out…
You’re bound to encounter a number of dishes you never have before. Delicacies can be so exotic as to include frog lungs, cow stomach, cow knees, blood sushi, fish eyes and pig brains. Use this opportunity while you’re abroad to dive into the culture, push past your comfort-zone, and be adventurous with your meals.
…wait to sit until you’ve been guided to your place.
…tap upon receipt of more tea as a sign of gratitude.
…try every dish offered.
…hold the rice bowl close to your mouth while you eat.
…eat until the host has begun to.
…stick your chopsticks upright in your bowl, for it symbolizes death.
…tap your bowl with your chopsticks.
…keep your chopsticks in your hands as you talk.
…tip. This practice is reserved for hotels and tourist activities.
…feel the need to finish all your food. It’s a sign of prosperity to order more than can be consumed.
A note on “white wine.” This is not wine, in fact. It is Baiju, a liquor that is extremely strong and favoured by Chinese business men.
General codes of conduct
…Chinese groups to ask to take photos with you at public spots.
…to see geese in the place of guard dogs. Their aggressive nature makes them useful for the police.
…to be asked personal questions about your income, age, marital status, etc. It is not invasive, but a method of seeking common ground.
…loud conversations. Yelling is not affiliated with anger or upset, but a method of communication in this bustling country where the languages are tonal in nature.
…lines, pushing, and a general lack of personal space.
…be punctual, or early. Respecting others’ time is especially important here.
…remove your shoes when entering one’s home.
…greet with a handshake.
…address elders first at a meeting.
…use titles and surnames unless invited to address one by their first name.
…bargain at markets. Tip: only keep the amount of cash you’re willing to spend in your wallet, for vendors have hawk-like eyes and you may become a target if they see ample amounts of money.
…display signs of affection in public, and refrain especially from touching a Chinese person you don’t know for you will render them uncomfortable.
…write in red ink; the colour’s affiliated with blood, protest and severe criticism.
…accept compliments. This can make you come off as vain.
…point. Gesture with palms up and fingers laying flat.
A note on spitting
This is a common practice and not viewed as rude. The Chinese believe that if you have something inside you that needs to be released (like phlegm), it is healthy and, in fact, necessary, to let it out, no matter where you may be, whether that’s a wedding, birthday celebration, public transportation, or even, at times, indoors.
At the end of the day, remember that China is a very large land, covering 600,000 square miles, comparable in size to all of Europe. As such, different regions of China will have varying customs and traditions. Be observant of how others are operating around you, and if you find yourself at a loss, just remember you’re a guest in their home, so be polite and always stay open-minded.
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