Chinese etiquette: what to know?

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Chinese etiquette is complex and revolves around the concepts of “face” and respect. Effort counts for a lot, but minor transgressions can be perceived as highly inappropriate. The Chinese are superstitious, and odd numbers are considered unlucky. Introductions are formal, and honorifics should be used. Respect for elders is important, and gifts should be modest and presented in even numbers. Chopsticks have specific rules, and expressing thanks is important while being modest.

Many Asian cultures are notorious for their complex etiquette and China is no exception. Over the centuries, the Chinese have developed a very complex system of etiquette which can sometimes be baffling to foreigners. The most important thing to know about Chinese etiquette is that effort counts for a lot; as long as people make a sincere effort to be courteous and polite, minor transgressions can be forgiven or kindly pointed out for future reference.

One of the concepts behind Chinese etiquette is the idea of ​​”face” or respect and reputation. The Chinese take their reputation very seriously and interactions that appear to undermine someone’s reputation should be avoided. For example, yelling at someone in a public place or trying to prove someone wrong in a mixed group will be perceived as offensive. Something that may seem like a slight offense to a foreigner could be perceived as highly inappropriate under the rules of Chinese etiquette if it undermined someone’s position of respect.

Chinese culture is also highly superstitious and this plays a part in Chinese etiquette. As a general rule, odd numbers are considered unlucky, so people should avoid giving gifts in odd numbers or inviting an odd number of people to a party. The number four is an exception to this rule, because it is a homophone for “death” in Chinese, and is therefore considered unlucky. The colors black and white are ominous, while red is a lucky color; presents should be wrapped in red if possible, and red decor is a good idea for parties. Some gifts are also taboo, such as watches, which are associated with funerals.

The Chinese prefer to do business and introduce themselves through intermediaries rather than meeting directly, at least initially. Business people traveling to China should use the services of an intermediary connection to meet new contacts, and casual travelers should also seek introductions through intermediaries if possible. In all cases, introductions are usually formal, starting with the oldest person present. People stand for introductions and may shake hands briefly, but do not engage in other physical contact or express emotion.

As in many other cultures, formal honorifics should be used unless someone indicates that a more casual form of address should be used. This is especially true for people older or older in rank. Chinese etiquette frowns on excessive physical contact and displays of emotion; in particular, frowning while someone is talking is a sign of disagreement. Showing the soles of your feet or shoes is also considered impolite. Respect for elders is also very important. People will stand up when an older person passes and offer assistance with doors and parcels to the older people as a sign of respect.

For those who are lucky enough to be invited to a Chinese party or dinner, a gift is provided for the host. Gifts should be modest, rather than flashy, and should be presented in even numbers. At a dinner party, people are expected to try everything and express interest in everything on the table. If a guest hasn’t helped himself with something, the host will put it on the guest’s plate.

Some particular rules surround the use of wands. Chopsticks should never be used to point at people, nor should they be licked or stuck upright in a dish. Passing food to other people with chopsticks is considered taboo, and when using chopsticks to take food from a common plate, the wide end of the chopsticks should be used, so that the part touching the mouth does not go into contact with food.

It is important to express thanks for services rendered and gifts in Chinese etiquette and to be modest when thanking. Modesty is a highly valued trait in many regions of China and many of the rules of Chinese etiquette revolve around the concepts of modesty and “face”.

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