Understand Chinese Etiquette And Courtesies

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Chinese Etiquette And Courtesies

Chinese courtesies have always been formal to follow strict rules, although sometimes Chinese people seem to be impolite according to Western norms in public places.

To well understand Chinese, some concepts should not be ignored:

Mianzi (Face)

The idea of shame, usually expressed as 'face' could be loosely defined as the "status" or "self-respect" in Chinese and by no means alien to foreigners. It is the worst thing for a Chinese to lose face. Never insult, embarrass, shame, yell at or otherwise demean a person. Since all these actions would risk putting a Chinese in a situation that he might lose face. Neither try to prove someone wrong nor shout at him in public.

In order to get a successful effect without letting a Chinese lose face, any criticism should be delivered privately, discreetly and tactfully, or else, just opposite to what you wish.

Guanxi (Relationships between People)

Throughout much of Chinese history, the fundamental glue that has held society together is the concept of guanxi, relationships between people. It is very important for the Chinese to have good relationships. They often regard good social relations as a symbol of personal ability and influence. Someone who has no connections would be despised and is only half-Chinese.


Keqi not only means considerate, polite, and well mannered, but also represents humbleness and modesty. It is impolite to be arrogant and brag about oneself or one's inner circle. The expression is most often used in the negative, as in "buyao keqi", meaning "you shouldn't be so kind and polite to me," or "you're welcome."

Besides, Chinese seldom express what they think directly and they prefer a roundabout way. Neither show their emotions and feelings in public. They rarely greet people with a handshake, though it is very popular among foreigners, say nothing of embracing or kissing when greeting or saying good-bye. Consequently, it is better not to behave too carefree in public, even though you are well-intentioned. Do not particularly push yourself forward, or else you are unwelcome.

Having said that, you need not worry about these cultural barriers since most Chinese are hospitable and amiable and will not mind your nonproficiency.

How do Chinese address foreigners?

Officially, foreigners are addressed as Waibin (foreign guests or foreign friends) but privately, they are call as Lao Wai.

In China, it is a usual practice, also the most intimate and friendly way, to address people with the word "Lao" (meaning "old") added before the family name. For example, people may kindly call Mr. Li as Lao Li. Not least, people also call those who come from Guangdong Province as "Lao Guang," and those from Jiangxi "Lao Biao".

Analogically, they call foreigner "Lao Wai". Pronounced somewhat like "law why", this address means "old foreigner". It is not intended to be aggressive or insulting. So when you hear people call you "Lao Wai", you should feel complemented since it seems that Chinese have treated you as their own fellows.

How should foreigners greet Chinese?

With the development of economy and culture, most ordinary people living in large cities can speak a little bit of English. So, a "hello" or "how do you do?" is acceptable to most of them. Also, it will be more interesting if you are able to greet them in Chinese. The typical Chinese greetings include nihao (hello) and jiandao ni hen gaoxing (nice to meet you).

Of course, as a kind of universal language that needs no translation, a smile or a wave will also elicit a friendly response.

On some occasions, shaking hands is a good means to greet Chinese people. However, when shaking hands with a Chinese woman, do not hold it too tightly - a light shake of the fingers will do the job.

In China, embrace is not a usual way to greet each other, except between family members and very good friends. Kissing, whether on the cheeks or on hands, is unacceptable to the Chinese.

What is Chinese people's reaction to compliments?

Chinese people are very modest and not accustomed to show their feelings in public. So, when they are praised or complimented, the customary response is "no, no!" For example, when you praise a Chinese for his excellent achievement in the work, he would say: "no, no, my work is so-so". When you applaud somebody for his cooking skills, the most possible reply is: "no, no, it is only suitable for filling the stomach."

"No, no" here does not mean that the Chinese think your compliments are wrong or improper. It is just an unpretentious reaction to your commendations. So, when you get such a response when praising a Chinese, do not be discouraged since your compliments have already been delivered successfully!

How do the Chinese say "no"?

Chinese people attach great importance to their "face". They do not like to lose face, neither risk letting others lose face. So they seldom say "no" or make negative comments directly. Instead of saying no, they often express their disagreement by means of a graceful excuse or a suggestion. For example when you invite someone to have the dinner with you, if he wants to refuse you he would say: "sorry, I have something to do" or "sorry, I have a date with someone." And also if one doesn't agree with your ideas, he would say: "I have another idea!"

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