Chinese Etiquette – What Not to Do!

In Asia, China, International Living, Our Blog, Tipps by hudieLeave a Comment

While living in China, I’ve encountered myself in situations that I would have liked to be warned about to avoid feeling uncomfortable or simply to avoid unintentionally, embarrassing others. Many of them can be confusing and contradictory to our own ways but if you intend to make a good impression with your new Chinese mates, take this advices in consideration. I’m sure they will be of help!.

TIP # 1. Don’t accept food, drinks, or gifts without refusing a few times

The Chinese way consist in offering something and expect to be rejected at least the first time. So, no matter how much you may be eager to accept the food, drink, or gift, you should first deny politely. At the second or third time you might humbly give up and accept.

The same situation applies for you when you offer something to a local. You should expect that they refuse to accept it, and try two or three times until they take it. It is the proper etiquette to prevent anyone to look greedy or in need of something.

In my case, I was accustomed to take a “No, thanks” literally  same when I say it, I didn’t like to be pushed. I really meant it. So while having guests at home and after offering a drink or dish once and getting a “No, thank you” as an answer I wouldn’t insist anymore. The result…thirsty or hungry guests all the time. 🙁

TIP # 2. Don’t show up empty handed

When invited to a house or a get together, it is the costume to contribute with something. It can be flowers, food, fruits or smalls gifts that you can exchange with the hosts.

Don’t be surprised if the hosts also gives you something as a small gift just to show their friendship and consideration to you. Traveling souvenirs from your country are specially appreciated and you should always present and receive anything using both of your hands and if possible making a short bow.

TIP # 3. Don’t show your confidence accepting a compliment proudly

When complimenting Chinese people for their beauty, their intelligence or a remarkable action, don’t expect the person to thank you or accept the compliment graciously. Instead, you might receive a humble answer like “oh no, I’m fat and ugly, or “oh no I am not so smart”, or a simple “no no, not at all”.

So, that is their sense of politeness and humility and you are expected to be the same to not hurt their sensitivity. Don’t do like me that i was always going around pushing people to make them accept their virtues in public or proudly accepting compliments without a bit of humbleness.


In most of our cultures, direct talk is good and we are taught to be assertive. As a general rule, direct talk regarding something negative doesn’t work well in China. Publicly showing dissatisfaction, lack of respect, yelling or pointing a mistake in someone, will cause that person to lose face; and this can be socially devastating.

So when in China, try to act with more dignity, formality and a bit more passivity than you are accustomed to if you wish to maintain good relationships.

However, complimenting and giving credit where credit is due is really appreciated here and can put you and the congratulated person in a good position in front of others.

In addition, we recommend don’t overreact when asked personal questions regarding marital status, family, age, job or income, because this is done to seek common ground. Instead, you should keep calm knowing that they don’t do it in a disrespectful way and if possible ask the same questions back. You will see people openly answer without hesitation.

TIP # 5. Don’t drink alcohol without first offering a toast

When drinks are served, you should wait for the host to make the first toast to be able to take a sip yourself. You can also offer toasts from time to time and sip slowly and carefully since it is well known that Chinese banquets are common for having plenty alcohol like beer or rice wine, this last can affect foreigners real fast.

A similar etiquette rule applies when drinking tea. You should not pour tea directly in your cup without first pouring on the others. Always using both hands.

TIP # 6. Don’t Eat all the food offered on the table

Usually, Chinese banquets are known also for the variety and the big amount of dishes on the table. It is polite to sample all the dishes, and at the end of the meal you should leave a little on the plate to demonstrate the generosity of the host. On the other hand, it can be a bit irritating to see how a lot of food goes untouched to the trash can, but it is part of the culture and you can always explain to your hosts that in your culture you eat all what is on the table, so they might excuse you from breaking this etiquette rule and might not take it as they are not being good hosts.

TIP # 7. Never put your chopsticks upright in your bowl

This symbolizes death and it is shocking for Chinese people to see such thing, specially on the table because superstitions also play an important role in daily life here. You should practice the use of chopsticks ahead of time and be careful not to take food with the wrong end of them, as well as not to lick them or to tap your bowl with them.

TIP # 8. Fight before paying the bill

In china among Chinese is common to see people in restaurants that like to noisy fight to be the one to pay the bill. They consider it good manners to display such strenuous attempts and this might last few minutes while the bill goes back and forth until some one “wins” and finally pays.

Most Westerners are not accustomed to wrestling the bill and you are surely not expected to do it but certainly the gesture of being eager and willing to pay is always appreciated.

Have you ever visited or lived in China? can you share some useful tips with us? Feel free to write in our comment box, we will be happy to hear from you!!.


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