How to avoid some cultural faux pas in China

Chinese people often greet foreigners by hand shaking hands, though they tend to avoid eye contact when doing so. In fact it’s considered rude to stare into someone’s eyes, unless you know them really well. It’s best to address people with their surname and title unless they invite you to do otherwise. If you’re not sure which part of their name is the surname, just ask – it’s usually the first syllable of the name.

When giving things to Chinese people make sure you hold them in both hands as to use one hand is considered disrespectful. At weddings and Lunar New Year the usual gift is a red envelope of money. At other times food is a good choice. Make sure you don’t give people four of anything, which is an unlucky number, or scissors or knives (which signify the severing of a relationship), or clocks, handkerchiefs, flowers or straw sandals (which are used at/associated with funerals).

When given gifts Chinese people will usually refuse them twice before accepting them with a show of reluctance the third time. If you accept a gift, an offer of help or an invitation the first time, you’re thought of as rude. If you are genuinely unable to accept an invitation, make sure you explain clearly why in order to avoid slighting the person inviting you.

It’s rare to be invited to a Chinese home as Chinese people prefer to entertain in public. It’s normal for the host to order the food and to pay for the meal. When eating with a group you usually have a number of dishes which you share, rather than having individual meals. The host will ply you with the choicest bits of food and it’s rude to refuse them. If you have particular dietary requirements, make sure you discuss them with your host in advance. It’s usual to hold your rice bowl close to your mouth when eating, and to put bones on the table or in a bowl provided for that purpose. Make sure you don’t stick your chopsticks in you bowl, which is associated with death, but rather place them across your bowl or on a chopstick stand. Slurping your noodles and soup is a sign of enjoyment, as is belching, so don’t be surprised if your fellow diners do so.

Among the younger generation, tipping is becoming more common; older people find it insulting.

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