A LESSON IN CHINESE ETIQUETTE – THE DO’S

Travelling through China, as wonderful as it is, can sometimes be straight up confusing, not to mention pretty weird.

These DO’s will help you navigate your way through this wonderfully confusing, fascinating and invigorating country and it’s complex, rich and enthralling culture.


USE THE SQUATTING TOILETS-

Although it may seem a bit daunting, you might need a little practice, and you may or may not fall in at least once, using a squatting toilet is actually really great! It’s not only more hygienic (just don’t look down…) due to the fact that you don’t have to put your tushy on the toilet seat (bye kudies!), but extensive studies have shown that it is also much healthier to crouch down and do your business. This because when you squat, there is a clear passage, without any obstructions resulting in a significant drop in chances of bowel cancer. No need to push, clench, or cry, simply smooth sailing and eliminating haemorrhoids while you’re at it.

People in Asia have been dropping the kids off at the shallow pool for centuries and they ain’t planning on writing a letter to the pope in any other way, anytime soon. Even when the toilet is a Western one, people simply climb on top of it to drop a deuce. So much in fact, that at my university in London, SOAS, where there is a large number of Asian students, there are signs hanging in the toilets explaining how to use a toilet and asking not to squat, stand or sit backwards on the toilet.

Want to squat at home but don’t fancy climbing your porcelain throne? Get yourself a Squatty Potty (HERE) and turn your toilet time into an exotic experience, right in the comfort of your own home. (For the extensive authentic Asia experience, pop into the Indian takeaway around the corner).

ORDER THINGS YOU CAN’T GET IN THE CHINESE RESTAURANT AROUND THE CORNER –

We all know, and let’s be honest here, all love, the Chinese dishes, that for some reason or another, represent the entire Chinses kitchen in the West. Sweet and Sour, Egg Rolls, Beef in Black Bean Sauce, Beef and Broccoli and the take-out menu goes on and on. However, these are not the dishes Chinese people eat and there is so much more to this diverse, not to mention delicious, kitchen.

Next time, instead of the same old, order yourself my all-time favourites: Red Braised Aubergine – Hong Shao Qie Zi (红烧茄子) Kung Pao Chicken – Kung Bao Ji Ding(狂跑鸡丁), Street Vendor Noodles (with braised pork, chili oil, black bean and lots of garlic) – Dan Dan Mian (担担面),Similar to Dan Dan Mian – Zha Jiang Main ( 炸酱面 ), Boiled Dumplings – Shui Jiao(水饺), Spiced Tofu – Ma Po Tofu (麻婆豆腐), Hot Pot – Shuan Guo Zi (涮锅子) and Xiao Long Bao (小笼包). Chinese Hamburger – Rou Jia Mo (肉夹馍).

VISITING A CHINESE HOME –

As it goes for pretty much anywhere, make sure you arrive on time, failing to do so may seem like a sign of disrespect to the host. Always remove your shoes before entering a home and wear slippers if they offer you any. Although chances are that your big O’ll Western feet won’t fit it them, oh well, stick ‘m on anyways. Bring a small gift or token of appreciation to your host and make sure to both offer and receive items with two hands (gifts, drinks, napkins, chopsticks, cups, plates etc.). Finally, I refer you to the eating and drinking etiquette HERE for proper Chinese table manners.

SOCIAL MEDIA, GOOGLE AND VPN’S – WHAT’S THE WHAT?

Due to strict censorship laws in China, you won’t be able to upload your daily selfie, note on your every move, post pictures of your food or any of the other thing you might indulge in on a daily basis. Moreover, you won’t be able to access sites such as Google, Google Maps, Gmail, Facebook, Instagram or even YouTube. Lucky for you, there are ways around this and with a little preparation, you will be able to navigate freely whilst in the country.

Ensure you download something called a VPN. This will allow you to basically pretend that your computer (IP address) is located in a different country where there are no censorship laws. Make sure you get your hands on a (purchased, as free ones won’t work) VPN BEFORE you enter the country as you won’t be able to download one after you have entered. In the past I have used Surf Easy, Hola, Windscribe and Express VPN which all worked a charm, however, recently the Chinese government has been cracking down on VPN’s, so make sure that you get one that is still active (China optimised) and will be able to serve its purpose. I would also advise you to see if there are any money back guarantee VPNs to ensure you don’t go out of pocket.

THE GIFT THAT KEEPS GIVING –

Firstly, a little gift giving etiquette.

As always, make sure you present and accept a gift with both hands and refuse to accept a gift at least two times. Let the giver really insist before accepting it as it is considered rude to just take it without at least putting up a polite flight.

What to give?

There are a few occasions, such as the Chinese new year or a wedding, where Chinese people give something called a Red Envelope(Hong Bao- 红包). These little red parcels are filled with money rather than a specific gift. Red is considered the most auspicious colour, it represents luck, success and prosperity. As a foreigner it is not expected of you to give red envelopes, however, it will be greatly appreciated and taken as a sign of respect if you do.

When attending a wedding it is considered cheap to give anything under £45. Avoid giving amounts with the number 4 (Si 四) in it as it carries the same sound as the word for death (Si死) (400CNY, 354CNY etc.). Odd numbers are also considered to be inauspicious, the number 8 is a lucky number in the Chineses culture as Eight sounds like the word “Fa” which translates to wealth/good fortune, and additionally, it is definitely not acceptable to give coins.

Unsure as to what to give? Gifting a nice fruit basket is always a safe option although you may want to avoid gifting bad smelling fruits (read more about the don’ts of gifting HERE).

BUSINESS CARDS ARE SERIOUS BUSINESS –

Unlike here in the West, in China, business cards are handed out and exchanged as a means of introduction, even when being introduced to someone’s cousin, neighbour or the guy at the checkout counter at the local supermarket… As usual, here a few tips that will help you not to offend.

Here too, if not more so than ever, it is important to give and receive using both hands. Make sure you actually glance over the card before putting it away as failing to do so would be a great insult. Do not write on someone’s business card or place them on your back, or any pocket for that matter.

It would be great if you are able to present your business card but it is not utterly necessary.

SHOWING THE ELDERLY SOME LOVE-

Unlike in the modern Western culture, in China, the elderly are very highly regarded and have an important place in society. They are not to be put away in a home as they cause us inconvenience, but to be taken care off, shown great respect and to be learned from as they are considered more experienced and wise.

Always show the elderly respect, that obviously goes for both at home as well as in China. A great way to show your respect is to address people in a polite way. Address them using Nin (您), the polite form of “You”. Mind you, just because they are old and you show them respect, does not mean you will receive this in return. On more than one occasion I have been shoved out of the way so someone half my height and at least three times my age in order for them to cut in line. You can read more about how to deal with the line-cutting by both the elderly and the young (HERE).

Leave a reply