First published on 24 Jan 2011. Updated on 23 Jun 2011.
- Spitting appears to be something of a national hobby in China and pretty much unavoidable. Sandal and flip-flop wearers beware.
- Kissing and other public displays of affection more intimate than holding hands are still relatively uncommon and probably best avoided.
- Until told otherwise, refer to people by their title and surname.
- When you meet someone for the first time, don’t be surprised if they ask you straight out about your salary, savings and private life. The best way to deal with this is not to show your irritation but to keep answers vague and steer the conversation to a more neutral topic.
- At the beginning or end of a meeting, new acquaintances will often give you their business card. To be polite, receive it with both hands, appear to study it, and then stow it away before offering your own (also with two hands).
- Most meals are eaten with chopsticks. There is no shame in asking for a knife and fork, but be aware that pointing at someone with your chopsticks will cause offense. Nobody waits for others to eat either – food is served and eaten in the order the dishes are put on the table.
- At formal meals, there is no pressure to finish the vast array of dishes – in fact, leaving some food on your plate is a signal that your host has been more than generous. However, should your host put some food directly onto your plate, try to eat it. Giving food to a guest is a respectful gesture and refusing it will cause embarrassment.
- Never leave your chopsticks sticking out of your rice when not in use – they resemble the incense sticks used at funerals.
Pushing and queuing:
- Jostling on the Beijing subway or other transportation is normal and not malicious. When you’re ready to exit, a bit of tactical nudging is sometimes needed. Saying ‘xià che!’ when approaching your
stop can also help by letting people know that you will be getting off. No matter how orderly a queue is, once the train pulls in it’s every man for himself. If necessary, push with the best of them.
- If in a queue at the supermarket or a ticket office and someone pushes in front of you, don’t be afraid to remind them that they arrived after you by saying the phrase ‘qing pai dui’ (‘ching pie dway’– please queue).
- Some foreigners in Beijing find themselves becoming impromptu tourist attractions. If this happens to you, just take it as a huge compliment and flash a smile!
In major tourist areas like Tiananmen, Wangfujing and expensive shopping malls, some locals claim to be students will often approach you and start up a conversation. The most popular scams include the following...
- The ‘art student’ scam;
As far as scams go, this one seems pretty harmless. Students will approach you and ask if you’d like to see some Chinese art. Unknowing tourists who agree will be taken to an exhibition of calligraphy and pressured into buying paintings at ludicrous prices.
- The ‘Teahouse’ scam;
Students will approach you and ask if you’d like to practice conversation with them. If you agree, they will take you to an apparently random nearby teahouse, where you will be served tea without being shown a menu or price. After having a nice chat, you’ll then be stuck with the bill, often up to four-digits in RMB (well over USD100) for a pot of tea. To avoid this scam, just say ‘no’ and move on. If you do get caught, firmly walking away from the teahouse after being stuck with the bill, or simply paying a more reasonable amount works as well.
- The ‘kind old lady’ scam;
While strolling through the archways of the Temple of Heaven, you may be invited to play a game of bat and ball with one of the elderly folk who flock there. It’s worth being aware, however, that once the game is over they may try and force you to pay for the privilege. You are of course not obliged to do any such thing.