8 Basic Chinese Social Etiquettes You Should Know

The culture in China has been developed over hundreds of years, resulting in countless social etiquette that is only unique to China. A few things that you do without thinking back home may be something that is frowned upon over in China.

If you pay attention to how you act, understand the differences between cultures, it is actually quite easy to keep up with China’s social etiquette. Once you do that, you can easily immerse yourself into the Chinese culture and the lives of the locals.

1. Greetings

So many foreigners believe that they need to bow to everyone that they greet over in China, but that is not true.

A simple hi, or ni hao, while shaking a person’s hand and smiling, is always the best option. It is also best to acknowledge the oldest person in the group first, as it shows a sign of respect.

While you are shaking a person’s hand, it is important to not grasp their hand too firmly, as it shows aggression and not friendliness. You should also never give someone a hug when you are meeting them for the first time.

2. Visiting Houses

When you are invited to someone’s house in China, it is important that you arrive on time and bring a small gift for your host.

When you arrive, you should immediately take your shoes off and wear the slippers that your host offers to you.  Any time your host gives you something, whether it is a drink, napkin, food, or gift, you should graciously accept it using two hands.

3. Table Manners

Chinese Social Etiquettes - Table-Manners

When living in China, there are going to be many times when you are eating at a table with the locals. These meals may be in their homes or they could be at a restaurant, so it is important to know the etiquette for both.

When eating at a host’s house, you should always try everything that is being offered to you. Often as a guest, you should never take the last few pieces of food off a serving tray, as it is considered bad manners.

When dining at a restaurant, Chinese people don’t like the idea of splitting the bill. Therefore, you should be prepared to either pay the entire bill or have someone else pay for your meal. This has changed quite a bit among young people under the influence of western culture. So pay attention to how other people are doing, and do as the locals do.

4. Exchanging Business Cards

Handing out your regular business card in China is frowned upon, as they are only written in English. It is going to be necessary for you to have new business cards printed, with English on one side and the same information written in Mandarin on the other. When you are handing your business card over, you must have the Mandarin side face up and give it to the receiver with both hands.

When you receive a business card from someone in China, you should accept it with both hands before complimenting the giver on how wonderful their business card is. If you are attending a meeting, the business card should be placed in front of you until it is time for you to leave. When you do tuck the business card away for future reference, it must go into your shirt pocket or a business cardholder.

5. Gifts

The Chinese LOVE gift giving.

An interesting social etiquette about exchanging gifts is that it’s considered a good manner for the recipient to refuse the gift a few times before they finally accept it. When accepting the gift, use both hands to show respect and gratefulness.

While you may want to reciprocate and give a Chinese person a gift as well, there are certain items that are considered taboo within the Chinese culture. The items that you should never give as gifts in China include umbrellas, handkerchiefs, clocks, green hats, towels, shoes, certain types of flowers, knives, and items that come in sets of four.

6. Chopsticks

Chinese Social Etiquettes - Chopsticks

When dining in China, chopsticks are the main tools. If your chopsticks skills are non-existent, you can ask for a fork and spoon. However, not every restaurant has them prepared for a foreign diner.

One thing to remember when you use the chopsticks: you must never place them standing upright in your rice.  Instead, you should place them flat on the table when you are not using them. When you are finished eating, your chopsticks must be placed flat on the top of your bowl.

7. Stay Calm and Don’t Overreact

As a foreigner living in China, with the language barrier and misunderstandings caused by cultural differences, you might feel angry or frustrated from time to time.

The Chinese have perfected the art of staying calm and not overreacting, so if you find yourself in a situation that may make you lose your temper or overreact, you must work hard to not yell, criticize someone, or show anger. Remember, problems are solved by making an effort to communicate carefully.

8. Respecting Elders

Chinese Social Etiquettes - Respecting-Elders

Respecting the elders is a big part of Chinese culture. When you address an elder, it is important to use nin hao instead of ni hao, as the nin is more polite and refers to elders. Giving your seat to an elder in public transport is also expected by Chinese people, so when you see an elderly person on a bus, politely give your seat to him/her, and people will in return show respect to your gentle deed.

Real Respect Comes From The Heart 

When you pay attention to these eight things, and the do’s and don’ts of each one, you should be able to easily follow along with the Chinese social etiquette.

If you have any questions, ask one of your Chinese friends, they will be more than happy to give you the information that you need. And if by any chance you made any mistakes, your host will usually be quite forgiving. As in Chinese culture, we will try our best to avoid embarrassing our guests. So try your best, but at the same time, don’t be too nervous as well!

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