A Blast From The Past: Dos And Don’ts of Chinese Etiquette

As previously mentioned, I went to Beijing in July 2009 as part of a school trip at the height of swine flu. It was a massive culture shock to say the least; the very tip of the iceberg being how seriously they treated swine flu while it was the subject of mock and ridicule in my homeland.

Such was the culture difference that one of the tasks we were set before embarking on the trip was to make a Word document outlining the do’s and don’ts of Chinese etiquette. Having dug out the document in question, my 17-year-old research unveiled the following things:

When meeting people
– Applaud – if you are meeting a group, and the same will be done in return.
– Be formal – greet the elder person first and address them by their title and surname.
– Use a handshake – it’s the most common form of greeting for foreigners.
– Don’t be offended – Chinese people usually look towards the ground when greeting people.

Appearance
– Don’t… wear high heels or short sleeved blouses; showing off too much is considered offensive.
– Do… wear subtle, neutral colours.

Behaviour
– Don’t… use big hand gestures while speaking, as the Chinese do not do this – you may distract the other person.
– Absolutely do not… touch people! It is extremely inappropriate (especially when speaking to someone of the opposite gender).
– Don’t… point with your index finger – use an open palm.
– Don’t… put your hand in your mouth. It is considered improper.
– Don’t… give gifts that are related to death (clocks, straw sandals, a stork or crane, handkerchiefs, flowers or anything black, blue or white)
– Do… give gifts of food, or good writing pens. Present them with both hands!
– Do… arrive on time or early.
– Do… remove your shoes before entering someone’s house.

Eating
– Don’t… begin eating or drinking before your host does.
– Do… taste all the dishes offered, as cultural courtesy.
– Don’t… eat all your food – there will probably be several courses, and if you finish what is on your plate, the host will assume you are still hungry and refill your plate.
– Don’t… place your chopsticks straight up in the bowl, as this has connotations of death.
– Don’t… drop your chopsticks. It’s bad luck.
– Don’t… be too thirsty, as women do not usually drink at meals.
– Don’t… eat the last piece from a serving tray.
– Do… hold the rice bowl near your mouth while eating.
– Do… return your chopsticks to the chopstick rest after every couple of bites, or when you drink or talk to the host.
– Don’t… put bones in your bowl.
– Don’t… be offended if the host burps; it means they are enjoying their food.

Other
– The number four is considered to be unlucky, but the number eight is the luckiest number.

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