If you plan on traveling to the east anytime soon, supposing that you are in the west, then there are some key hints to journey by. Chinese is one of the hardest languages to learn—any of the dialects or offshoots, from Mandarin to Wu to Cantonese—and it’s best not to get yourself into any trouble. The Chinese like to hang, shoot, dismember and jail anyone who does anything wrong in their country (not really; we’re trying to make you nervous here). In reality, the more you try to “fit in” to the Chinese way of life, the more likely you’ll experience a side of Chinese culture often missed out or altogether skipped. Here are some things not to do when traveling in China—these could be the difference between life and death.
7 – Give Gifts Then Brag On and On
Giving small gifts in China is considered a nice gesture. Something from your home country is often seen as courteous, thoughtful and unique. However, all this can be gone in a flash once you start to brag about it. Don’t take the gift, for example, and show the person how cool it is. Don’t brag about the price or how hard it was to get. Flashing it around in the faces of others or dancing on the table pointing fingers won’t get you any further.
6 – Hold the Handshake for Minutes
When you go to shake someone’s hand in the west it’s best to keep it brief yet firm with one hand. The same holds true in China. If you grab the hand of a business exec, hold onto it and shake it with both your clammy hands, you are far from the preferred method. And, whatever you do, don’t go in for the French canoodle either. First, get rid of any clamminess with a washing or a wet towel; shower if you must. Be sure to introduce yourself and your company name (you are who you work for here) and shake hands firmly and briefly. One without the other here is considered odd.
5 – Embarrass Yourself
One of the best ways to save face in China (Mianzi) is to act accordingly in public, both men and women. It’s best not to go running after taxis at high speeds. Moreover, it’s best not to push and shove your way through throngs of people; yelling won’t help your demeanor much. Take three deep breaths, three deep exhalations and be calm. If you are claustrophobic, it’s best to take the stairs: In China, there is always another person around, usually ten or more. That’s how they like it and you should too.
4 – Make Extra Space
This one sort of goes with number five above. One of the worst things to do at a gathering or social event is to ask for space. Space in this part of the world is little understood. Pushing someone out of your space “bubble” or stepping back from someone who may stand too close is not courteous. Even if you or they have BO or bad breath, it’s best to stay in the huddle than to step away and be taken for rude.
3 – Serve With Used/Salivated Chopsticks
If you’ve never used chopsticks, best learn before you come to China. In any case, if you do know how to use chopsticks, then never serve yourself from a communal bowl with the wrong end of your chopsticks—the part you eat with. If you are all drinking something and laughing and having a jolly time, doing this will still get you gasps. Lick the saliva and food chunks from your chopsticks first. Turn them around. Serve with the never-used end. Others may serve you like this as well.
2 – Never Offer to Pay the Bill
You’ll get used to seeing scores of men fighting from table to table amongst themselves to see who pays the bill. Generally, one person pays for everyone. If you sit there like a stump and don’t offer to pay, it will seem rude. Trust you us, you won’t win, but just play along and try. Getting into a wrestling match is considered good after dinner sport. Don’t go on for over a couple minutes, however. And, never use a weapon.
1 – Make One Offer of Your Gift
Never have this conversation: You: “I bought you this gift.” Chinese Person: “No, I can’t. Thank You.” You: “OK.” In China, it is customary for the gift giver to offer at least twice and the receiver to refuse at least once. It’s a humble gesture that saves face. Never say OK and quit. It is important to say it at least two or three times, but often necessary to say it four or five. Walking away is not the thing to do. All the Chinese know some form of martial arts and will use it (again, just kidding).