Local Customs Guide

There are many habits and customs unique to Chinese culture. Here are few important things to keep in mind:

Losing/Keeping Face: You’ll likely hear a lot about the importance of “face” in Chinese culture. The concept of “face” roughly translates as “honor”, “good reputation” or “respect”. It is critical you avoid losing face or cause the loss of face to someone else. This means that you should avoid losing your temper in public, be wary of your actions, etc. It is considered a great insult to cause someone else to lose face.

Gifts: In general, gifts are given at Chinese New Year, weddings, births and more recently (because of marketing), birthdays. The Chinese like food and a nice food/fruit basket will make a great gift. The following is a list of “taboo” gifts/practices:

  • Scissors, knives or other cutting utensils—they indicate the severing of the relationship.
  • Clocks, handkerchiefs or straw sandals—they are often associated with funerals and death.
  • Flowers—Some people avoid this since many traditional Chinese associate these with funerals (although that is less so now with the marketing of Valentine’s Day, western style weddings, etc).
  • The colors white, blue or black paper—these colors are often associated with death and funerals as well.
  • Quantity—Four is an unlucky number so avoid giving four of anything. Eight is the luckiest number, so giving eight of something is a very lucky sign!
  • Presentation— Always present gifts with two hands. Gifts are not opened when received but accepted and opened after the gift-giver has left. Gifts are often refused as well before they are accepted to indicate politeness.

Invitation to a home: The Chinese prefer to entertain in public places rather than in their homes, especially when entertaining foreigners. If you are invited to a Chinese home, consider it a great honor. If you must turn down the invitation, it is considered polite to explain the conflict in your schedule so that your actions are not taken as a slight.

Here are some general rules to follow when visiting a Chinese home:

  • Be punctual.
  • Remove your shoes before entering the house.
  • Bring a small gift to the hostess (usually some fruit or box of candy).
  • Eat heartily to show that you are enjoying the meal.

Table manners: Learn to use chopsticks if you can! You may not be offered a fork. Merely attempting to use chopsticks will show respect to your hosts. Other tips:

  • Wait to be told where to sit. The guest of honor will be given a seat facing the door.
  • Do not refuse food offered to you; try everything.
  • Never eat the last piece from the serving dish.
  • Chopsticks should be returned to the chopstick rest after every few bites and when you drink or stop to speak.
  • The host offers the first toast.
  • Do not be offended if a Chinese person eats noisily; it merely indicates that they are enjoying their meal.

Exchange of business cards: Exchanging business cards is a very common practice after meeting someone. Hold the card in both hands when offering one and accepting one. Examine a business card briefly before putting it on the table next to you or in a business card case. Never write on someone’s card unless directed to do so.