About to embark on a trip to China? Lucky you! A fascinating nation with a fabled history, generous people and mouth-watering delicacies, China also has some strict customs and cultural quirks that need to be respected. So if you’ve got a travel to China checklist, now would be a good time to get it out. We’re about to run you through the do’s and don’ts of visiting this wonderful country and share some advice on proper Chinese etiquette.
Just follow these handy China travel tips and you can’t go wrong.
The Art of Using Chopsticks
For such a humble eating utensil, there are a lot of guidelines surrounding the proper use of chopsticks. First, and perhaps most importantly, you should never poke your chopsticks upright into a bowl of rice. In China this is reminiscent of burning incense for the dead, and doing this is not only supremely insensitive, but it supposedly brings bad luck. Secondly, never use your own personal chopsticks to take food from communal plates, despite how tempting it may be to just reach over and help yourself. Serving tools will most likely be supplied, so ensure you use those. And lastly, don’t point at anyone with your chopsticks. Much like how in Western culture pointing a finger at someone can be seen as rude, the same rule applies to chopsticks.
Dining Out Rules
Chopsticks aren’t the only things you need to consider when dining in a traditional Chinese setting. Perhaps the best advice to offer is to make sure you’ve got an empty stomach – after all, you’ll be expected to try every dish on the menu. It’s most impolite in China to refuse food, and when you are eating, be sure to acknowledge (loudly) how delicious everything tastes. A highlight of any Chinese dinner party is the toast – of which there are many. It’s rude not to participate, so we suggest taking very small sips with every toast, in order to keep up with the seasoned locals. As a guest you won’t be expected to pay (no matter how much you protest), and split bills are virtually unheard of in China, so simply accept the kind gesture.
Respect Your Elders
Chinese culture has long dictated that elders within the community are the most revered of all. At family gatherings, no matter what the occasion, it’s expected that senior members are always greeted first, and the most appropriate form of acknowledgement is a bow rather than a handshake. When sitting down to eat a meal, ensure all elders have taken their seat first, as no one should be positioned at the table before they have taken up their usual spots. Don’t be surprised if you are directed where to sit, and definitely don’t start eating until the most senior person at the table has begun – you’ll soon learn that at Chinese events, the elders call the shots.
In China, the act of giving a gift isn’t as simple as wrapping up a present and handing it over to the lucky recipient on their birthday. It’s actually common practice to give a gift when meeting someone for the first time, visiting their house or just as a small token of friendship. Gifts such as a basket of fruit is a safe choice, but never purchase a clock as a present – clocks symbolise time running out. Presents should ideally be wrapped in red paper (the colour for good fortune), while white and black wrapping need to be avoided at all costs, as these are used for funerals. Try not be taken aback when the person receiving the gift initially refuses it (it’s a sign of modesty, and they will usually accept it on the second or third offering) or if they don’t open it in front of you, as presents are generally opened in private.
How to Be a Good Guest
Being invited to a local’s house is a great honour, and it’s vital to be aware of the correct etiquette. To begin with, never underestimate the importance of punctuality. In fact, being early is even better as it shows a deep respect for the host’s time. Upon arrival, be sure to remove your shoes, and (as mentioned earlier) bowing in the presence of elders is expected. Public displays of affection are frowned upon, so avoid going in for a hug or kiss. And if you thought dodging personal questions from distant aunties at Christmas was bad, be aware that no question here is considered too invasive, so whether it’s asking how much you weigh or how much you earn, every topic is fair game.