Etiquette

The Chinese have a culture that is quite different from Westerners. Their ways of acting and reacting can often surprise you but try to keep an open mind. Faced with a problem, you will most often succeed by remaining calm and patient rather than allowing yourself to grow inpatient.

1. Common Habit

With the exception of major cities like Beijing and Shanghai, you'll often be stared at by a number of curious locals who want to meet a "Laowai" which is how they refer to Westerners. People may try to take a picture of you or attempt to discuss topics with you in broken English to learn more about you. Questions can sometimes be personal but this is simply their way of exchanging words with you.

Conversely, try not to make them lose face, which is an important concept in Chinese culture. You often find that Chinese people prefer to say "yes" or remain vague rather than expressing their disapproval. Try not to put them in an uncomfortable situation by emphasizing an error they’ve made publicly. Instead, remain polite and maybe tell them in private.

If you smoke, it is popular to offer cigarettes to people around you when you light your cigarette. You can also offer your tour driver and guide a cigarette during your commute, during meals or while in bars. If anyone offers you a cigarette then politely accept if you smoke or, otherwise, simply give a hand gesture to explain that you do not smoke.

During discussions with your guide and locals, try not to go too deep into conversation on politics. Some topics may be sensitive enough in such a country where there are many nationalists.

In case you are invited by a Chinese individuals to their home (outside the planned items in the program of your trip), it is customary to bring a small gift. Four things to avoid:  chrysanthemum (used for funerals), watches, soaps and knives. Fruit or alcohol are fairly common gifts for Chinese people.

Before entering, be sure to ask if you should remove your shoes. If they say, "yes" then you can ask for slippers or slippers will be provided for you. They may often insist that you keep your shoes on but, if they removed theirs, you should do the same.

2. Table Manners

Whether in restaurants or eating in a household with families, it is likely that there will be food galore. It is important that you always have too much to eat. If you finish eating all the dishes, then it means that the host did not have enough food prepared for you, which would make them lose face. In this scenario, they may even recommend additional dishes to eat. Do not force yourself to finish your plate to be polite because your hosts may view your efforts as the opposite. Likewise for eating rice do not finish your last bowl of rice otherwise, they will assume it was not enough.

In terms of alcohol, you may find yourself invited to drink with locals. It is impolite to refuse a free drink, but you can explain if you do not want to drink alcohol. When you toast, the oldest or the most important person must have his drink raised higher in height. Sometimes you see people bicker for 5 minutes about insisting that others should put their glasses down to show respect for the honored person.

With alcohol, the prominent term to cheer is "Ganbei!" This indicates that you will drink all of the contents in the glass at once.

Chopsticks are not a toy and good behavior while using them is important to Chinese people. Do not leave your chopsticks in your bowl of rice, rather, it is better to place them in a balanced across the outer edges of your rice bowl. In addition, do not play with food that is served to you as it is considered disrespectful.

3. Religion

In churches and cathedrals in Europe, it is frowned upon to wear a hat, T-shirt not cover the shoulders and skirts and shorts stopping above the knees. However, in China, every religion has its own rules. Try to pay attention and not offend believers as well as avoid the risk of conducting any action that may result in your being asked to leave.

In temples, remove your hat or cap. Most of the time, it is not necessary to remove your shoes, even if the monks have done so. Avoid loud and irreverent conversations. Also be sure to ask permission before getting out your camera. When you sit down, please make sure that the soles of your feet are not facing an altar, a sacred object or individual. Also, never point your finger toward any of the statues inside of these sacred places; rather, it is best that you use your entire hand with outstretched fingers to point at a statue.

In mosques, cover your arms to the elbows or lower. Your thighs and knees should also be covered. Women can choose to wear a scarf on their heads as a sign of a courteous gesture, but such an action is not required.

In Tibet, avoid all gestures of affection in public; avoid wearing shorts or walking barefoot, walking on the shadow of a lama, walking between a living Buddha and a statue.  Also be sure to ask permission before taking photographs of the locals. Avoid touching the heads of children, monks, or any other person in this area. Indeed, Tibetans believe that God lives in their head and will then be offended by your gesture.

On the Silk Road, do not order pork or alcohol in Muslim restaurants. Also be sure to avoid sensitive topics such as relationships between different ethnic groups. With regard to alcohol and tobacco, be sure to adopt the same behavior as the locals, considering that these products are not allowed in some parts of the region.

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