With talks about China becoming a superpower soon and everyone having to learn their language, surely you would want to see for yourself what is it in this country that has caused so much growth in such little time. But really though, you should be visiting to China to see how the 4000 year old culture resides harmoniously beside the modern China. The people, culture and habits of the Far East are very different than ours. In this post, as you visit China’s capital, Beijing, here are some things you need to know that would help the Chinese to better accept you (and not shame you).
Chinese culture places prime importance on group harmony. One of the biggest things they fear is getting humiliated and embarrassed in public – something they refer to as ‘losing face’. If you are seen yelling or mocking the Chinese, they lose face. Thus, as a foreigner, it’s best to take a deep breath and gulp down any frustration you might feel towards the people or even the Government. The worse thing you can do is to shout.
In Beijing, be particular about leaving early. VERY early. This is because traffic jams are spontaneous here…one minute you’re driving peacefully – and 15 minutes later, you find yourself in the middle of a bottleneck no prospects of budging an inch for a long time. It is advised to carry pictures of your hotel (their address written in Chinese would do too) and also the toilet.
Lastly, Chinese weather is a tad unpredictable, so come prepared.
China is known to have censored several websites that has basically become a part of our lives here – such as Facebook, Twitter and Google. So warn your near and dear ones that may not hear from you in a while… unless you befriend a tech-savvy Chinese who would know how to access these and many more such websites.
China is the most populated country and Beijing is the second most polluted city. So be prepared to face a lot of crowd everywhere you go and at whatever time you go. Furthermore, don’t be surprised to not being able to see anything a few feet away because of the air pollution or see the locals wearing a mask to save from breathing in the toxic air. Also, the people there tend to talk quite loudly so that they can be heard over all the city noise. Burping and spitting is done by everyone from all walks of life but blowing your nose in public is surprisingly frowned upon.
Just like in India, queues are hardly maintained and you will often find people randomly entering the ‘queue’. When in public, don’t shake your feet or touch anyone’s head. Don’t point using your finger…do it with your entire palm, instead. Also, staring is common as it shows that you’re genuinely interested in something they’re doing. Under no circumstances, indulge in public display of affection.
When you meet a Chinese, it is customary to exchange business cards so make sure you carry a bunch. If you see them again, a simple ‘nod’ would suffice as a greeting. If they happen to invite you to their house for food, here are some general guidelines to follow:
• Always be on time, it is considered very disrespectful to the hosts to be late (again, remember spontaneous traffic jams and leave well in advance).
• Never show up empty handed. Wrap gifts in colours like red, pink and yellow and never in colours such as white, black, grey and blue as they denote mourning.
• Like in India, remove shoes before entering the house and never show the soles of your feet to the people or face it towards their deity. Bowing to the shrine is actually considered disrespectful.
• Do not slap on the back, hug or put your arm around a Chinese person unless you are extremely pally with them.
• Chinese tend to ask questions that are normally considered very personal to us such as age, marital status, family, job, income, etc and they do so just so they can find common ground. It is their culture, so don’t be taken aback or refuse to answer them. Just oblige. Do not try to indulge in topics such as the Tiananmen Square, Taiwan and Tibet…especially in public. They will refuse to comment even if they had previously done so privately.
POLITENESS AT ITS PEAK
Ever since childhood, the Chinese have learnt about respecting the elders and always being polite or else prepare to lose face. So, be very careful about your words and actions. Here are some things to help you out:
• Acknowledge the elderly first.
• Address someone by their first name with the prefix of Mr/Mrs/Ms/Dr/Sir.
• Always refuse and be prepared to be refused: When you offer something to the Chinese such as a compliment, a drink, some food or a gift, they will always refuse it a couple of times to not come out as greedy or eager. They are just being polite and will accept it on a little persistence. You are expected to behave the same way when they offer you something. It is polite to accept anything that the host offers including alcohol.
• When you meet a person, depending on the time of the day, ask them whether they have eaten or not as it is considered to be kind and thoughtful. The phrase to be used is nǐ chē le ma?
• Gifting is a part of their culture so carry many small gifts with you to give to someone as they would likely gift you. Wrap gifts in red, pink and yellow and never in black, white, grey and blue. Don’t write anything in red ink and gift clocks/books. Unwrap the gift later when you’re alone.
• Give and receive gifts or cards with both hands.
When in doubt, look at the Chinese and do as they do.
Ah, the things you can eat in China. Almost every part of every animal is served up as food. However, there is a certain food etiquette to be followed.
The Chinese believe that eating food is a social setting and therefore, at many restaurants you will see big round tables and big portions of food which people are expected to share with others. Use a serving spoon or the other end of your chopsticks to serve yourself and others from the dish placed in the centre. Always toast to alcohol and touch your glass below that of the eldest person in the group. Make sure to eat every grain of rice in your bowl.
The Chinese are very particular about chopstick etiquette. It is only to be used for eating and not as drumsticks or as a gesturing medium. Never place them inside the bowl, upright in your food or stick them in your hair. Place them only on top off your bowl.
It’s considered vulgar to put your hands in the mouth but it is okay to cover your mouth while using a toothpick.
After food, fight to pay for the bill as if your life depends on it. It is highly appreciated by the Chinese.
If you are invited for dinner with them, eat and drink as much as they do or they feel offended.
SCAMS & TIPPING
Beware of the many scamming techniques used by the Chinese. Young girls may approach you and ask you to take them to an expensive cafe or bar to ‘practice their English’. You may be down by 5 digits when the bill comes. Some might say they are an aspiring artist, take you to a gallery and practically force you to buying their paintings. This one should be obvious – don’t buy anything in the Chinese markets – that ‘iPhone’ will be joined by glue. Another common scam is where people pretend to be hurt in an ‘accident’. Some merchants even go as far as giving you fake currency. ‘Black’ taxis are known to charge exorbitant rates to foreigners and are normally looking for bait at popular tourist spots. If you cannot be assertive or rude, it’s best to avoid unnecessary friendliness and get out of any suspecting situation.
Tip only at high-end restaurants and to the tour guides. Tipping around ₹ 200-250 is sufficient to the guides.
China has so much to offer in terms of architecture, nature, culture, etc it should be on everyone’s travel bucket. So when are you planning to visit Beijing?
“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” – Aldous Huxley