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The Top 10 Faux Pas to Avoid in China

Shaolin TempleChinese Temple

A trip to China can be exciting and eye-opening. Their culture, manners, and social ideas might be quite different from your own. Here is a list of ten important points of etiquette. The list will help avoid faux pas to avoid offending Chinese inadvertently and to promote good contacts with the local Chinese people.

1) Don't Disrespect Homes or Temples

It is important to remove your shoes before entering many homes or temples. But it is an individual thing. Chinese follow different household customs. If they want you to remove your shoes, don't worry that your feet are less than presentable. Your hosts are probably more offended by shoes worn inside than by a hole in your socks. You can ask the host about whether you should remove your shoes since in many homes, people don't.

However, it is also rude to show the bottom of your feet or your soles to others. So when you sit and cross your legs, try to point your feet at a spot where there are no Chinese present. If they move around, you might need to keep moving your feet nimbly and quickly. Keep alert! :-)

2) Don't Forget Table Manners

Place chopsticks like this on top of the bowl.

Don't ignore chopstick etiquette. Chinese have a lot of ideas about this. Chopsticks are for eating only. They are not to be used for gesturing to items or individuals. They are also not to be used as drumsticks or as playthings at someone's table.

Don't place chopsticks inside the bowl when finished or stick them in your hair. Instead, place the chopsticks on top of the bowl. Definitely don't stick your chopsticks straight up in your food. This is an ill omen representing death or a curse against them.

3) Don't Expect Interpersonal Communications to Mirror Those in Your Country

Traveling to a foreign country can be an exercise in patience. Don't expect the locals you encounter to speak English. It might be a good idea to try to communicate in the language of the region you are visiting unless your make a lot of pronunciation mistakes and confuse or insult people.

Don't point at people when communicating. Instead, motion with the palm of your hand. Don't touch or pat the top of someone's head for any reason. When greeting, a handshake or a slight nod is fine. Don't bow and never kiss hello or goodbye.

4) Don't Stop Offering Gifts

If your travel to China includes meeting individuals, either for business or personal reasons, you might consider travelling with gifts you can hand out. Appropriate gifts at appropriate times may be useful and make Chinese happy.

It isn't considered appropriate in China to refuse a gift that is offered. However, don't be offended and don't stop offering once the gift has been refused. Generally it may require several offers before a gift is accepted. It is Chinese culture to refuse the first offer. Likewise, a gift might not be opened in your presence since it’s considered rude to open a gift in front of the giver.

However, remember that your gift may be viewed as a bribe, and it will make people feel indebted to you or be viewed in a negative way for these reasons. But in general, it will be ok if given in a friendly way.

5) Don't Offend with Your Gift

Be careful with the gifts you give. While gift baskets of flowers and fruit are common in the U.S., certain types of flowers and fruits are considered unlucky or in appropriate in China. It is best to avoid these altogether or learn about the special meanings of flowers and fruits to know what to give accurately. Don't give bad smelling flowers. Cut flowers should be avoided as well.

Varying regional cultures in China ascribe different meanings to certain colors. It is best to choose either yellow, pink, or red for gift wrapping. Avoid any dark colors or white since these can be seen as bad luck.

Avoid giving clocks also since they connote death to Chinese. Avoid umbrellas. Don't give anything in fours since their word for four sounds like the word for death. However gifts that come in sets of eight such as a set of eight tea cups or pieces of candy are considered highly since eight is a lucky number. Eight sounds like the word "fa" that means wealth or good fortune.

6) Don't Tip

Tipping is a practice that is not observed in China. Cab drivers, restaurant staff, and bellmen do not expect to be tipped and could even be offended if offered extra money.

The sole exception to this practice is a tour that is catered for foreign visitors. The individuals on these tours often depend upon tips for their income. Therefore, it is wise to budget for tipping guides and drivers as one would in most other places in the world.

7) Don't Try To Pay When Hosted by Chinese

Dining Etiquette

If you are a foreigner new to them, Chinese are not quite sure what you'll do when they invite you to a meal. Among themselves, who the host is to be is clear from the situation. The elder or senior person will do the inviting and be the host.

It is considered rude if someone who isn't the host at the table starts ordering the food since the hosting person orders all the dishes and usually does so without asking people what they want. But since you are a foreigner, it would probably be ok for you to tell the host what you like or dislike. Then again, it might be considered quite rude. It depends on the situation and who you are with.

In China, restaurant bills are never shared. They don’t “go Dutch.” The person hosting might be embarrassed if you chip in.

8) Don't Touch People's Heads

In many areas of the country, due to tradition and religion, the head is considered more sacred. A touch could be considered disrespectful. So be aware of this, and don't pat people on the head or play with their hair unless you are sure of your standing with them.

9) Don't Touch People Affectionately Lightly

The Chinese are less affectionately touchy feely and hug and kiss much less than people from other cultures. When you meet a stranger, it might be best simply to greet verbally instead of trying to shake hands. This feels unnatural to most Chinese.

On the other hand, the Chinese in crowds may be more pushy and crush up against others for a place in line or a seat. Learning the nuances of behavior takes time.

10) Don't Talk about Death

Unless you have a good reason, don't talk about death, or mention that someone died. Death is quite a serious and ominous topic to Chinese. The color white represents death, so avoid giving white things as gifts or wrapping gifts in white paper or ribbons.

Let Us Help You Have a Wonderful Visit

Our experienced tour guides can teach you about relevant points of Chinese etiquette and culture and help you have a smooth and enjoyable trip. Consider touring with our guides especially if this is your first trip.

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They'll help you enjoy yourself, and you'll learn more about China and the Chinese than you might be able to learn on your own. This is valuable knowledge that you can apply on your next trip to China as a tourist or perhaps for serious business or employment.

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