China has been a mystery to the western world throughout centuries.
47 Years ago, President Nixon was able to open the doors to China. However, there is still so much to learn to be respectful of such a country rich with history and culture.
Here’s what you need to know when visiting, or doing business in China:
First off, I must say from personal experience that once you get to “really know” a person from any part of China, they are genuinely kind, generous, hardworking, and loyal.
No need to bow, say “ni hao” pronounced knee hao
A simple, soft handshake, a smile, and a friendly ‘hi’ or ‘ni hao’ (or ‘nin hao’ to greet older Chinese people) will often suffice.
When addressing Chinese people, address the eldest or most senior person first.
When meeting a person of honorific title, or high societal name, always refer to them with their last name first then the first name.
Dress conservatively to blend in with the crowd
The Chinese wardrobe still differs from a Western one in many ways.
Most of the clothing you’ll see around are probably quite similar to what you’re accustomed to wearing. If you want to blend in, though, lean towards a more conservative dress and avoid showing off too much skin.
Be a good guest when invited into someone’s home
Things are changing in China, so invites to business associates home and friends are increasingly becoming popular. Being invited to a Chinese family’s home can be a beautiful and warm experience. Chinese people are known to be very welcoming, and they will make you feel like part of the family.
Upon being invited to a Chinese family’s home, make sure you arrive on time. Bring your host a small gift. It’s customary to take off your shoes before entering your host’s home. In some cases, the host may give you a pair of slippers. The polite thing to do is to accept the slippers and wear them even if they do not fit properly.
Try as many food options available as you can. A Chinese dinner table is a lively place, full of engaging conversation and delicious exotic food. When invited over for dinner, either at a Chinese family’s home or in a restaurant, the best way to ensure that you are abiding by Chinese etiquette is to observe what everybody else is doing and try to do the same. Also, try to compliment your hosts’ home.
Wait for someone to tell you where to sit. Mostly, the guest is the first one to be seated by the host, followed by the seniors, and then the juniors. The host often starts eating first and offers the first toast, so wait before you start eating until the host tells you to do so.
Be sure to eat plenty of food to show you’re enjoying it, and don’t be too shy to try everything that is offered to you. Don’t finish off the whole dish, but leave a small amount of food on your plate or serving tray. It shows good manners and tells the cook that (s)he has prepared enough food.
In China, it’s customary to eat foods like chicken and shrimps with your hands as well as drinking from your bowl. Using chopsticks also shows respect.
When you do eat with chopsticks, make sure you don’t stick them upright in a bowl of rice. When you’re not using your chopsticks, leave them flat on the table to your right, or when you’re finished eating, place them flat on top of your bowl sideways. Placing the chopsticks to the left is a sign of death in China & Korea, so it’s best to put them to the right of the table. When in doubt, follow other people’s lead.
Gift of giving
Giving and receiving gifts can be a confusing matter for foreigners, and the Chinese etiquette around it is quite complicated. Gifts are given when visiting someone’s home, when being invited for dinner, on major Chinese holidays, at a wedding, or a birthday party.
Here are a couple of things to remember when presenting or receiving a gift in China:
- Present or receive your gift with both hands to show respect.
- Refuse a gift at least two or three times before accepting it.
- Do not open your gift in front of the person who gave it to you. It is polite to open the gifts after you leave unless your counterpart asks you to open the gift immediately.
- These gifts are not suitable in China: clocks, handkerchiefs, umbrellas straw sandals, anything that resembles a stork or a crane. These items are associated with separation, death, or bad luck. Also, don’t give any sharp objects, like scissors or knives, as these could imply cutting off the relationship.
Gifts from your home country are always welcome and appreciated. Chinese people also like to receive fruit and other produce, especially when presented in an elegant box or basket. However, do not give your Chinese counterpart a pear, as it’s associated with separation in China.
Hope you enjoyed Part I of Chinese Etiquette. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s part II.
Sending zen vibes! 💋
Feature photo credit: decent image scraps