Customs and Etiquette for Visitors to China?
As is the case when staying in any foreign country that you are not familiar with, you will find that there will be certain social rules to follow in China that are different from what you are used to. Not knowing these rules could end up with you committing a faux pas which could be quite embarrassing, and you might even end up inadvertently offending somebody. While local customs can often be quite nuanced, meaning it can take some time to understand them and adjust to them, it is possible to learn some before you leave to help you at least get the basics right. When you are at least following the basics until you get familiar with the intricacies, you are less likely to do anything that might cause offence or too much embarrassment.
First impressions really do count, and in China this can mean getting the greeting just right. Try to wait to be introduced whenever possible as introducing yourself can be considered to be disrespectful. The most common way to greet is with a handshake, although a simple nod is also acceptable. If the person you are being introduced to looks to the ground, they are not being rude, it is quite acceptable to do so in China.
When greeting, it is respectful to always greet the eldest person first. You should also address people by their professional or family title followed be their surname, bearing in mind that in China a person’s surname generally comes before their given name.
It is important to be on time for any occasion, and a meal is no different, although you should also try not to be early. Formal banquets are common in China and if you are invited to a formal dining occasion, it is polite to sample all of the dishes that are offered. Remember also that it is considered polite to leave a little food on the plate to indicate that the host has been very generous and that you are full.
One thing that you should definitely not do is to tap your bowl with your chopsticks or leave your chopsticks upright in your bowl. To do so is symbolic of death and the Chinese tend to be quite superstitious, and at the very least it is considered to be very impolite.
When dealing with bones, it is impolite to jut spit them out. Instead you should deal with them discreetly by using a tissue or napkin. If a bowl is provided for bones then use it. If you are not sure, then watch other guests first to see what you should be doing.
Being overly affectionate to one another in public is frowned upon, so remember to act conservatively. You should also be mindful of too much body contact with people that you don’t know well. While you may mean well in putting your arm around another person’s shoulder, Chinese people may be uncomfortable without it.
You should also try to dress conservatively where possible as clothing that is too revealing is considered inappropriate, this is especially true when visiting temples and other holy places.