We all know that we don’t pat the back of a colleague in Korea to thank them for a “job well done”. Or eat with your left hand in India, or sip vodka in Russia. In many countries, these actions are harmless. But in others, they can give a wrong impression or cause offense.
In fact, whatever culture you’re from, it’s likely that you routinely do something that could cause offense somewhere else in the world. So here is:
A primer on how to avoid mistakes in China
A few basic guidelines and tips can help you avoid faux pas in China. Tipping: is not necessary or advised. No tip is needed for taxi drivers and most restaurants. Leaving a few coins in most restaurants, you will likely be chased by staff to give you back the money you ‘forgot’ to take. In some cases, a fee regarded as tipping in America is actually a fixed fee, such as a fee for a doorman allowing you into a building at a late hour.
Business Cards: When presenting or receiving a business card or handing over an important paper, always use both hands, and never put it in pant pockets.
Visitation: A small gift taken to a host’s home is always welcome. Wine, fruit, or some trinket from your native country is common. If the hosts are wearing slippers at home, and especially if there is carpet on the floor, remove your road shoes and ask for a pair of slippers before you enter your host’s home, even if the host asks you not to.
Hosting meals: Hosts tend to order more food than you can eat because it is considered shameful if they can’t stuff their guests. If you attempt to finish all food, it means that you’re still hungry and may prompt your hosts to order more food (i.e. never totally clean your plate).Dining: Table manner varies from different places among different people in different scenarios. Sometimes you can see Chinese spit on a restaurant floor, pick their tooth in front of you and yell whilst dining but it is not always welcome. Follow what other people do. It very much depends on what kind of party you are involved in.
Drinking: When offered a drink, you are expected to take it or your friends will keep pushing you. Excuses like “I’m allergic to alcohol” are usually better than “I don’t feel like drinking”. Sometimes you can pretend that you are drunk. Don’t panic as usually foreigners are tolerated much on these customs.Tobacco: If you smoke, it is always considered polite to offer a cigarette to those you meet, as long as they are of adult age. This rule applies almost exclusively to men, but under certain circumstances, such as a club, it is okay to apply the rule toward women. If someone offers you a cigarette and you don’t smoke, you can turn it down by politely and gently waving your hand.
Starring: As a traveler, you may find that your language, color of hair and skin, behavior, and manner of dress will draw long and sustained stares, especially outside the major cities. Saving Face: The Chinese tend to be very concerned about “saving face”. Pointing out mistakes directly may cause embarrassment. If you have to, call the person to one side and tell him/her in private, and try to do it in a polished manner.Pointing: Never point to statues of Buddha’s or other deities with your index finger, as it is considered to be very rude. Instead, point at them with your thumb.
Religion: Swastikas have been widely used in Buddhist temples since the 5th century to represent Dharma, universal harmony, and the balance of opposites. Similar to India, it does not represent Nazism. It is also worth noting that the local Jews have historically lived peacefully with their non-Jewish neighbors, and save for the Cultural Revolution, during which people of all religions and not just the Jews were persecuted. China does not have a history of significant anti-Semitism unlike the Inquisition in Europe.
Gay and lesbian travelers Homosexuality was de-criminalized in 1997 and taken off the state list of mental disorders in 2001. Chinese people tend to have mixed opinions when it comes to sexuality. Though there are no laws against homosexuality in China, films, websites, and television shows involving themes of homosexuality tend to be censored or banned. Whilst there is no obvious gay scene or community in China, most Chinese cities have at least 1 gay bar, although it’ll be well hidden. Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou are more in the open, with a range of gay bars and clubs, albeit nowhere near as brash and outspoken as their counterparts in other international cities. Most Chinese are reluctant to discuss their sexuality in public, as it is generally considered to be a personal matter. In addition, homosexual marriages and unions are not recognized anywhere in the country. Nevertheless, while openly displaying your sexual orientation in public is still likely to draw stares and whispers, gay and lesbian visitors should generally not run into any major problems, and unprovoked violence against homosexual couples is almost unheard of.
Cope Electricity is 220 volts/50 hz. Two-pin European and North American, as well as three-pin Australian style plugs are generally supported. However, be careful to read the voltage information on your devices to ensure they accept 220V (twice the 110V used in many countries) before plugging them in you may cause burnout and permanent damage to some devices such as hairdryers and razors. Universal extension cords that can handle a wide variety of plug shapes (including British) are widely used. Names of long streets are often given with a middle word indicating the part of the street. For example, White Horse Street or Baima Lu may be split up into Baima Beilu for the northern bi) end, Baima Nanlu for the southern nán) end and Baima Zhonglu for the central zhng) part. For another street, dng “east”) and x “west”) might be used. In some cities, however, these names do not indicate parts of one street. In Xiamen, Hubin Bei Lu and Hubin Nan Lu (Lakeside Road North and Lakeside Road South) are parallel, running East-West on the North and South sides of the lake. In Nanjing, Zhongshan Lu, Zhongshan Bei Lu and Zhongshan Dong Lu are three separate major roads. Laundry services may be expensive or hard to locate. In upper end hotels it will cost ¥10-30 to wash each article of clothing.
Cheap hotels in some areas do not have laundry services, though in other areas such as along the Yunnan tourist trail the service is common and often free. In most areas, with the exception of the downtown areas in big cities, you can find small shops that do laundry. The sign to look for on the front door is (xy, or spot the clothes hanging from the ceiling. The cost is roughly ¥2-5/item. In even the smallest of cities dry cleaning outlets are widely distributed and may be able to wash clothes. But in some areas you’re going to be stuck washing clothes by hand, which is time consuming and tiresome. It may take days for a pair of jeans to dry, which is especially difficult if you’re in a dorm room with no hangers, so fast drying fabrics, such as polyester or silk, are a good idea. If you do find a hotel that does laundry, usually they will put all your clothes into the wash together or even with other items from the hotel, so lighter colors are best washed by hand. Smoking is banned in public buildings and public transport except for restaurants and bars (including KTVs) – many of which are outright smoke dens, although many multinational restaurant chains do ban smoking. These bans are enforced across the country. Generally, smoking laws are most strict in Shanghai and Beijing, whilst they are more lightly enforced elsewhere. Many places (particularly train stations, hospitals, office buildings and airports) will have smoking rooms, and some long-distance trains may have smoking areas at the end of each car.
Facilities for non-smokers are often poor; most restaurants, bars and hotels will not have non-smoking areas apart from top-end establishments although many modern buildings have a smoke extraction systems which suck cigarette smoke out of the room through a ceiling vent – meaning that the smoke doesn’t hang in the air. The Chinese phrase for ‘May I smoke’ is ‘ky chuyn ma’ and ‘No Smoking!’ is ‘bù ky chuyn!’.
With this, you had the primer on key facts about China, and key facts on culture and customs. Another important part of the culture is the local food and the local drinks. Make sure you read our posts on China food and drinks:
Local food you should try in China and No miss drinks in China.
Other tips that you’d like to share on mistakes to avoid in China Please comment below.