I’d like to consider myself a somewhat polite individual. Since arriving in China, I can guarantee I’ve broken the rules of etiquette many times. More than one person has perhaps thought to themselves, “That foreigner is very tall and rude.” I’m just guessing here. So, to spare you from future embarrassment when you come to visit, I thought I would share a thing or two I’ve learned about what it means to be polite in China:
- Overusing the words “please” and “thank you,” puts distance between you and the individual who you feel the need to be overly polite to.
- When invited to a banquet, never seat yourself. Wait until someone seats you (and practically puts you in the seat).
- Never split up the tab at a restaurant amongst those enjoying a meal together. One person pays, showing that they value relationship over money.
- When someone offers to pay the tab, keep fighting them to pay. If it’s really your turn to pay, you must win the fight.
- If you ask people to remove their shoes at the door, always provide them with a pair of slippers. The floor is very dirty and one should never walk around in socked feet or barefoot.
- When leaving someone’s home, always make the reason for leaving about the host, not about yourself. For example, say “You must be tired now, I will leave.” Then leave promptly, don’t delay once you say you’re going to leave.
- Always walk your company to the entrance of the building in which you live, even if you’re on the 10th floor.
- Always bring a gift when someone invites you into their home, no matter how small.
- If someone offers you a drink in their home, never accept the offer right away, even if you are parched. You must deny the offer several times. Don’t worry, I polite host will always keep offering.
- Always offer your guest more food than is humanly possible to eat.
- Scolding is a way to show your concern for those you care about. Never be offended if a perfect stranger scolds you for not wearing enough clothes, buying unhealthy food at the grocery store or forcefully prevents you from walking into traffic.
- Spitting or burping in public isn’t a problem, it’s a normal part of life.
As I reflect on these cultural norms, I’m reminded that every group of people has their own standard of what’s appropriate. The Chinese have decades of ancestors whispering in their ear, telling them how to be polite. Whether it be Miss Manners or your Great Grandmother’s voice that comes to mind, I commend you for listening, wherever in the world you may be!