Tips to avoid embarrassment in China


Eric Zeng's picture

Many clients have told us that experiencing the lifestyle with the local Chinese people is a top feature when traveling in China.

Learning the proper etiquette is an effective way to prevent you from being embarrassing when dealing with the locals.


  1. Foreigners in China
    Learning to say a few greeting phrases will help break the ice.
  2. A handshake is the most popular way to say hello in China. However, in format ceremonies and special events, Chinese people still prefer to bow or nod, which is a more traditional way to say hello.
  3. Always greet the oldest and most senior people first. 

Body Language in China:

  1. Most of Chinese people do not like being touched by strangers. Do not touch, hug, lock arms, back slap or make any body contact unless you two are really close friends.
  2. Clicking fingers or whistling are regarded to be very rude in China. Never do that to a Chinese woman. Do not whistling in the evening as Chinese people believe it will awake the dead.
  3. Feet are considered very dirty by Chinese people, so it is a rude behavior to put your feet on a desk or a chair. Also never gesture or pass an object with your feet.

Helpful Hints When Talking with a Chinese People

  1. Chinese people barely say "no". They may say "maybe" or "we'll see" in order to save face. 
  2. Show respect for older people. Offer a seat or right of way through the door to a colleague or older person as a polite gesture.
  3. When introduced to a Chinese group, you may be welcomed with applause. Please remain standing when being introduced. Sometime you are expected to shake hands with everyone in the group even if it is rather large.
  4. Return applause when applauded.
  5. Chinese people (especially women) enjoy asking private questions, such as
    • "How much money can you earn per month?"
    • "Are you married?"
    • "How many children do you have?"

If you do not want to answer these questions, just change the subject of your conversation. Do not directly say "I don't want to answer." because it will put both of you into an embarrassing situation.

  1. Chinese Family Dinner
    Asking about divorce would cause a Chinese person to lose face.
  2. Never say or act like you are starving.
  3. Most Chinese women do not wear wedding rings. Don't assume marital status.
  4. If some Chinese people ask you: "Did you have lunch?" It does not mean that they want to invite you to have lunch with them. It is just a popular greeting sentence in China, like British people always talk about weather.

Names and Titles:

  1. Use family names and appropriate titles until specifically invited by your Chinese host or colleagues to use their given names.
  2. In China, married women always retain their maiden name. You can address Chinese people by Mr, Ms, Mrs plus their family name. 
  3. Traditional Chinese family names are always place first, with the given name coming last. This is quite different from English names. For example, in a common used Chinese name, Li Ming, Li is the family name and Ming is the given name.

Exploring the culture is always an interesting part in a trip. If you have some funny stories which are relate to the Chinese etiquette when traveling in China, please share them with us in the comments. 

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