Chinese Etiquette Tips
Did you know that in China giving a clock as a gift wrapped in white wrapping paper would be seen as wishing ill upon the recipient? It's true! Both clocks and white denote death in Chinese culture, but gifts like wine and cognac are often appreciated.
Many Western customs are well-known and even accepted in most of China; however, it is still good to know some basic Chinese etiquette for your travels out of respect. There are many superstitions in China that shape their etiquette, especially when it comes to gift-giving and dining. Those are just a few thoughts to take with you on your trip. Below is a list of dos and don'ts for your trip to China.
- DON'T wear bright colors or shorts for business meetings. Women should wear conservative, dark-colored clothing and men should wear suits. Taller women shouldn't wear very high heels; either flats or small heels are preferred.
- DON'T wear revealing outfits if you are a woman. It's generally frowned down upon in China.
- DON'T pour your own drink first. Instead, make a toast about business or friendship. Pour everyone a drink, and even if the person's cup is filled, pour a few drops in.
- DO toast with the word ganbei ("empty glass"). Traditionally, you are expected to drink the entire contents of the glass in one swig. Bottoms up!
- DON'T put sugar or milk in your tea. Normal Chinese teas are always drunk neat. There are many types of delicious teas served in China, from black to green to oolong. Be sure to enjoy the different types of tea in China. They're very tasty.
- DON'T take the last bit of food in a serving plate. It's considered impolite. Also, leave a little bit of food left on your plate when you're full so the hosts know you are done, otherwise they'll bring out even more food!
- DON'T expect to tip everywhere you would tip in Western culture. A personal gift might be more appropriate than a tip for a tour guide. Taxi drivers in Beijing generally do not receive tips at all. However, tips may be expected in hotels that cater to Western tourists.
Gift giving and Accepting Gifts
- DON'T give a Chinese person a clock as a gift. Clocks are associated with death and funerals and a clock as a gift can be seen as a sinister action.
- DON'T give sharp objects that you can cut things with as gifts, such as knives or scissors. It can actually be an offensive gift because it signifies cutting off the friendship.
- DON'T give anything in sets of fours. Four is a very unlucky number in China, much like the number 13 is in many cultures. They don't have fourth floors in buildings, and “The Simpsons” was initially a flop in China because the characters all have only four fingers!
- DO present your gift with two arms, and if you are given a gift, receive it with two arms.
- DON'T open the gift upon receiving it unless it is insisted upon. Instead, open it later.
- DON'T wrap a gift in white wrapping paper. White is definitely not a happy color in China. In fact, it symbolizes death or mourning, which is also why Chinese brides do not wear white.
- DO refuse a gift several times before accepting it. If a gift is accepted right away, it can be seen as being greedy.
- DON'T whistle or snap your fingers
- DON'T point with your index finger. Instead, use an open hand.
- DO shake hands upon greeting someone. When shaking hands with a Chinese woman, only give a light handshake. Aside from that, people in China tend to prefer not to be touched, especially older people.
- DON'T greet by embracing or kissing, either on the cheeks or on the hands. This is seen as unacceptable to the Chinese, unless you know the person very well.
- DO learn some basic Chinese phrases, such as simple greetings and questions. However, you will find that in most major Chinese cities, English is spoken by many people. Mandarin is the mostly widely spoken language.
- DO carry around a business card of the hotel you are staying in. This way, if you are taking a taxi back to the hotel or if you happen to get lost, you can easily give them the address of the hotel even if they do not speak English.
- DO give your host a gift. As a tourist from another country, a gift from your native country is appreciated.
- DO allow time to go shopping. There are many markets and stores with treasured items such as jade, pearls, and silk. These items are very special to Chinese culture as well as being very beautiful, so come with a full pocketbook!
- DO bargain. The merchant will sometimes start off trying to charge you an outrageous price, so tell them that it's too expensive and point out flaws in the item. You will usually be able to get your item for a fraction of what they originally wanted to charge you. From kites to jewelry to apparel, there is no way you'll leave China without a suitcase full of souvenirs!
- DO use both hands when presenting and receiving business cards.
- DON'T write on the business card unless you are told to do so.
- DON'T immediately put the card away in your pocket or bag. This can be considered rude, so hang on to the card for a little while before putting it away.
- DO address a business associate with their professional title. This shows respect.
- DO arrive to meetings early or on time. Punctuality is very important in Chinese culture.
In spite of the long list of Chinese etiquettes, you will find that most people in China are actually very accepting of cultural differences, especially in large cities where tourism is booming. Keep the guidelines in mind, but enjoy yourself, take in the local cultures and have a safe and happy trip!