dos & don'ts

Many travelers from abroad are confused and frightened by Chinese customs. This handy reference tool makes it easy for newcomers to Beijing to fit right in.

So come along, my alien friend! Welcome to Beijing!

The order of Chinese names is family name first, then given name. Among some 440 family names, the 100 most common ones account for 90% of the total population. Brides in China do not adopt their husband's surnames.
Among Chinese, a popular way to address each other, regardless of gender, is to add an age-related term of honor before the family name. These include : lao (honorable old one), xiao (honorable young one) or occasionally da (honorable middle-aged one). 
Unlike the Japanese, Chinese do not commonly bow as a form of greeting. Instead, a brief handshake is usual. While meeting elders or senior officials, your handshake should be even more gentle and accompanied by a slight nod. Sometimes, as an expression of warmth, a Chinese will cover the nomal handshake with his left hand. As a sign of respect, Chinese usually lower their eyes slightly when they meet others.

Moreover, embracing or kissing when greeting or saying good-bye is highly unusual. Generally, Chinese do not show their emotions and feelings in public. Consequently, it is better not to behave in too carefree a manner in public. Too, it is advisable to be fairly cautious in political discussions.

Chinese do not usually accept a gift, invitation or favor when it is first presented. Politely refusing two or three times is thought to reflect modesty and humility. Accepting something in haste makes a person look aggressive and greedy, as does opening it in front of the giver. Traditionally the monetary value of a gift indicated the importance of a relationship, but due to increasing contact with foreigners in recent years, the symbolic nature of gifts has taken foot.

Present your gifts with both hands. And when wrapping, be aware that the Chinese ascribe much importance to color. Red is lucky, pink and yellow represent happiness and prosperity; white, grey and black are funeral colors.
The popular items include cigarette lighters, stamps (stamp collecting is a popular hobby), T-shirt, the exotic coins make a good gift to Chinese.
And the following gifts should be avoided:

1.White or yellow flowers (especially chrysanthemums), which are used for funerals.

2.Pears. The word for Pear in Chinese sounds the same as separate and is considered bad luck.

3.Red ink for writing cards or letters. It symbolizes the end of a relationship.

4.Clocks of any kind. The word clock in Chinese sound like the expression the end of life.

China is one of those wonderful countries where tipping is not practiced and almost no one asks for tips. The same thing goes even in Hong Kong and Macao, except in some luxurious hotels.

Traditionally speaking, there are many taboos at Chinese tables, but these days not many people pay attention to them. However, there are a few things to keep in mind, especially if you are a guest at a private home.

1. Don't stick your chopsticks upright in the rice bowl. Instead, lay them on your dish. The reason for this is that when somebody dies, the shrine to them contains a bowl of sand or rice with two sticks of incense stuck upright in it. So if you stick your chopsticks in the rice bowl, it looks like this shrine and is equivalent to wishing death upon person at the table!

2. Make sure the spout of the teapot is not facing anyone. It is impolite to set the teapot down where the spout is facing towards somebody. The spout should always be directed to where nobody is sitting, usually just outward from the table.

3. Don't tap on your bowl with your chopsticks. Beggars tap on their bowls, so this is not polite. Also, in a restaurant, if the food is coming too slow people will tap their bowls. If you are in someone's home, it is like insulting the cook.

  Go to Another Section  
  Story Tools