Customs in China

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Customs in China

"I am not one who was born in the possession of knowledge. I am one who is fond of antiquity, and earnest in seeking it there." - Confucius

The 5000-year old Chinese civilisation has endured through millenia of tumultuous upheaval and revolutions, periods of golden ages and anarchy alike. Through the recent economic boom initiated by the reforms of Deng Xiaoping, China is once again one of the leading nations in the world, buoyed by its large, industrious population and abundant natural resources. The depth and complexity of the Chinese civilization, with its rich heritage, has fascinated Westerners such as Marco Polo and Gottfried Leibniz in centuries past, and will continue to excite - and bewilder - the traveler today.

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 are 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" is 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.
  • Staring - 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 Buddhas 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. Simillar to India, it does not represent Nazism. It is also worth noting that the local Jews have historically lived peacefully with their non-Jewish neighbours, 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.

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