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The Culture Guide: 5 Things You Should Not Do When Visiting China

The Chinese can’t wait to share their thousands of years of history, food, art, and customs with foreign visitors like you. But only if you avoid doing these five things on your visit.

Touching Someone

What do you do when you first meet someone? Shake their hand. And, maybe, when you say goodbye, give them a hug or a kiss. But don’t try that in China. Touching strangers is a big no-no, even though most Chinese are fine with walking arm-in-arm with friends and family members. A verbal greeting or farewell, accompanied by a nod or wave of the hand is all you need to establish contact.

Using Chopsticks Incorrectly

Forget about forks, spoons, and knives. The far simpler chopsticks are used to eat most everything. If you don’t know anything about using these highly refined tools, learn from a knowledgeable friend or relative, or by watching tons of YouTube videos on the subject.

One common mistake: holding them too close to the tapered end, which makes morsels harder to pick up. Holding them further toward the top gives you a greater range of motion. And just as you would never stick a knife and fork into a steak so they stand straight up, you should never stick your chopsticks in rice so they’re sticking up.

Accepting Anything Immediately

Yes to the peanuts, no to the shrimp, and how about another glass of wine? It makes sense to immediately accept things you want and say no to things you don’t. Not in China, though. If you take a bit of candy or that gift right away, you’ll be seen as greedy, desperate, or uncouth. Better to refuse at least twice because that’s proper etiquette.

And if you’re the giver, don’t take “no” for an answer. Your guest is only being polite. Ask a few times until he or she says yes.

Drinking the Tap Water

Tap water in China is fine for washing your hands, brushing your teeth, or taking a shower. But don’t try drinking it because it’s not safe. It may have all kinds of bacteria, sediments, and heavy metals. Bottled water is available everywhere. In a pinch, you can always use the kettle in your hotel room to boil the tap water before you drink it.

Getting Angry in Public

Shouting at someone for poor customer service may be what’s done in Brooklyn but it won’t do in Beijing. Unlike in America where you’re number one and have to stand up for yourself, the Chinese value group harmony above individual needs. You should never embarrass anyone, make them uncomfortable, or have them lose face. Getting angry in public only reinforces stereotypes of Westerners being loud, unruly, uncivil, and obnoxious.

If you have a problem, go ahead and scream and shout within the walls of your hotel room where nobody can hear you. And then see if you can talk to the object of your disdain privately, quietly, and politely.