American tourists will find China to be a much larger nation that has more traditional and conservative customs than the ones practiced at home. Chinese laws are like those in the U.S., governing criminal, moral and political parts of the culture. However, the laws in China are much more pervasive. The traditional communist nation follows strict codes of respect and honor. In this culture, etiquette rules are long established. A little research is necessary in order eat, entertain and visit in China without completely alienating everyone around you.
Importance of Seniority
When visiting the private residences in China or dining with a group, tourists must acknowledge the importance seniority in order to have a successful visit, meeting or meal. The most senior person in the family or group deserves the greatest respect. They are greeted first and get the first consideration after the host or hostess. However, the most senior person must also set the example of respect and remember to allow room for the host or hostess to save face or avoid embarrassment.
There are a lot of etiquette rules designed to avoid embarrassment or to save face. Leaving food on your plate is one custom. The host likes to know that they gave you enough food. Eating everything on your plate is a sign that this did not happen. Allow the host to save face by leaving food on your plate. When dining out, hosts also pick up the check or fight you for it. Allow the host room to save face, but surrender the check, by making arrangements while he is away from the table. Another important tip is to avoid losing your temper. Getting angry and “flying off the handle” is a way that all those involved could lose face or suffer great embarrassment.
It is bad etiquette to say “no” or answer negatively. According to Conde Nast’s Concierge.com, this aversion to negative answers will cause some travelers to mistake a “yes” answer for an affirmative. Concierge.com suggests that the tourist listen to service workers, like those in the hotel and airport, in their exchanges with other English-speaking tourists. If possible, listen to the service workers utilize the other phrases alongside the “yes,” like “It is most inconvenient” or “It is not a very good sign.” The service workers, especially, will not give a simple “no,” as it is impolite to do so. You must also refrain from saying “no,” disagreeing and teasing in public. All of these will lead to your losing face.
Conversation topics that deal with China’s controversial politics are taboo as are anything to do with Taiwan, Tibet and other locations that were once points of contention. Chinese way of life and the one child policy are also taboo subjects. Tipping is taboo. If you feel that you must tip, do so in private and without any open mention of the tip.
Food and Drink
Etiquette dictates that you drink several toasts over the course of a dinner party and accept every drink offered. However, many travelers find themselves drunk long before the party is over. Concierge.com suggests begging off with an illness or allergy excuse or starting the drinking with wine (if available) or beer. Similarly, guests are often given the delicacies to eat. Oftentimes these are exotic meats and dishes that would make the average American squeamish. No matter how much you may crave them during the dinner party, do not ask for noodles and dumplings. These are peasant foods and asking for them is an insult to the host. When offered exotic foods, the allergy excuse works well, as does taking a nibble with a drink to chase it down.