My question is inspired by this one: Japanese etiquette: Most common (and offensive) mistakes? Which made me think about my upcoming trip to China.

As a Dutch citizen, I have experienced a lot that what we consider normal behavior, is considered rude or absolutely not-done, in other, even bordering, European countries. I've not been in Asia before, but I am prepared to try to adjust to the local customs as much as possible, and I think there is a lot that can be done wrong.

I've read the linked question with great interest, but I wonder to what degree these answers will actually apply to China?

For example, I recently learned that when toasting, you show respect by keeping your glass lower than the other.

  • Some Dutch would be offended if you bash Frans Bauer, some would love you. I think this applies to all cultures. People are generally quite forgiving for foreigners making mistakes.
    – user141
    Mar 4, 2013 at 16:23
  • 2
    I think Mao Zedong is not entirely like Frans Bauer in that regard...
    – Mark
    Oct 28, 2014 at 14:10

2 Answers 2


I'm Chinese so I can probably tell you this. As you're a foreigner they know already that you're not used to their culture. So, be yourself and you'll be fine. If anything, I guess it must be you to prepare for culture shock. As most of my foreigner friends complain about the spitting and toilets. So be prepared. Another thing is they smoke everywhere, if you're a non smoker it might not be good for you.

And what you said is right, if you want to show respect to somebody and if the other person is older than you, lower your glass is the right thing to do. If you're older than the other person you should be fine. And don't drink first unless you're offered to.

When you want to say hello to anyone. In English you'd say "How are you?" but in Chinese you would say "Have you eaten anything?", however it's not actually a custom so say "hello" is also fine.

And like most Asian countries, always show respect to elders.

You don't have to tips at the restaurant, if you tip the waitress might return the tips.

And this one might be wierd to you, don't finish the plate always let the host get the last piece.

Also, if the other person offers to pay for the meal let s/he pay, fair share is not always nice and the other person might lose face which is a really big deal.

  • Thanks. Can you maybe elaborate a bit on the spitting and toilets part? I am not sure now what to expect?
    – Bernhard
    Mar 3, 2013 at 22:02
  • 8
    They spit everywhere even inside a restaurant. But after the Olympics it's getting better as the gov enforces people to not do that in public. For the toilets, let's say it's not up to western standard and most of the rooms might not have a lock. If you're in big cities, e.g Beijing or Shanghai go to Starbucks would be the best choice and big restaurants then you should be fine.
    – toy
    Mar 3, 2013 at 22:08

In addition to the other answers, I would like to share some of my recent experience.

In the subways of the large cities, one is of course expected to offer your seat to older people or pregnant women. In contrary to the Western subways I've been in, it is also expected that you offer your seat to small children. (This probably has something to do with the crowdedness of most subways).

Most temples I've visited (Buddhist temples), have very large doorsteps at the entrance. Always step over it, no matter how large the doorstep is. I've seen tourists sit on this, but this is clearly not appreciated (even though they won't tell you).

In restaurants it is very well accepted to shout to waiters to get their attention (fúwùyuán!). You will see it everywhere around you, so it is easy to pick up.

I was quite surprised that all restaurants/shops/etc by default don't pay taxes on the sells. You can ask for another check (fapiao). This makes sure the restaurant pays the taxes (the price does not change). The Chinese government makes these checks into scratchcards, such that you can earn some money. Some restaurant will offer you a free drink if you do not ask for the fapiao.

  • 2
    Small confusion about the doorsteps: how did you find out that it's clearly not appreciated when they won't tell you? I unfortunately was not aware of that custom when I was there. May 6, 2013 at 15:18
  • @Bart You can see it from the way people look at them, if only for a short period of time.
    – Bernhard
    May 6, 2013 at 15:22
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    The Beijing metro has videos describing the current norms of seating: you offer your seat to anyone who has more need of it. A spry middle aged woman offers a seat to an exhausted young man. When an elderly man in the video offers his seat to a pregnant woman then a young girl seated nearby is embarrassed that she did not do this first -- so she offers hers to the old man. And in fact you will see people being very generous to each other this way. Jul 23, 2016 at 6:27

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