Things impolite in China

31 03 2011

Some time ago I had posted a link to a poll we started in Hefei forum about things considered impolite by foreigners living in China, meant as things that Chinese people constantly even if in a Western country they would be considered rude.. at the least (some of these things are illegal, like spitting on elevator floors!).

But then I noticed lately that I am receiving hits on my blog by people that looks for the completely opposite topic: things considered impolite by the Chinese people!

I have been here less than one year, but since something I have actually learned I want to give a few examples about that as well (even if we actually tried to push our Chinese friends in Hefei to start this topic on our forum, but a few said that there are so few things they can thing of..).

Forget the Chinese myths we all hear or rad in books before moving to China, especially about physical contact! Forget all the basic (Western) eating rules: make chewing or slurping sounds is normal here, even a sign of enjoying the food; talking with food in your mouth.. who cares! burping, no problem; elbows on the table: checking that?? are you crazy??

We all read that it is impolite to finish all the food offered: do not believe it.. it is not impolite, it is just IMPOSSIBLE!!!!

For a Chinese it is also normal to ask about salary, almost as conversation ice breaking (and for me it is very weird). On Internet you find that it is impolite to ask personal questions to people you do not know well: the problem is that personal for Chinese is very different than for Westerners!! Salary, marital status, plans to find a Chinese girlfriend and have cute mixed babies are normal questions over here, not private topics.. On the other hand, always better do not rise questions about Taiwan, Tibet, the island contended with the Japanese, or similar 😉

Also cutting a queue is not that impolite in China: I think all foreigners here experience soon or later that Chinese people are not good at queuing, being in person as standing in line or by car (Chinese driving has its own chapter!!!) 🙂

The way to address people for respect, politeness or formality has also its own chapter, since so different from Western ways!

Let’s see then, from my very little experience, what it is considered impolite in China, in a sort of order, from the worst to the least.. more or less.. again from my limited experience:

  • Make someone losing his/her face!
    This must be at the top of any list! This is one of the most important aspects of Chinese life! As a consequence, Chinese would “never” admit they made a mistake, even when facing it! From my limited experience, I would also add that for many of my Chinese colleagues and a few friends is difficult to admit I know more than them! Or that I can do things better than Chinese people. A bit sad, not because I care for the show, but because I know how good my work is.
    Furthermore I wonder also how far a Chinese would go in order to not lose face: would he/she even injure himself/herself in order to avoid a situation that would be not honorable for them? I start think the answer is yes.. and that is scary!
  • Lacking of respect toward the elders!
    This is a common sense tradition, but very strong in China: never lack of respect toward older people. The age relations are very strong in Chinese society and mind. Important during dinners for example, when toasting with an older person one should lower his glass and stand up, while the elder keeps sitting. In the countryside children and women during formal dinners also do not sit together with men and the elders. Also when entering a home the first to be greeted should be the older man in the family.
  • Lose the temper in public!
    This actually is related to the losing face chapter. Funny for us, who do not speak Chinese, try to understand when actually people are just talking or having a verbal fight: some Chinese dialects are.. rude to the least just in the way they sound, but maybe they are expressing pleasantries to each others!! 🙂
  • Not taking shower often enough!
    This was reported also by the Chinese wife of a foreigner around here: Western people do not shower enough for Chinese standards.
  • Criticize Chinese achievements!
    Cultural and, nowadays, especially sport achievements!!
  • Don’t let other people paying food for you!
    This is something people living in China know extremely well, and since it has been treated extensively in other blogs, I want only to pint you to an extremely nice one that I found recently: Occidental Go Dutch VS Chinese Pay the Bill.
  • Pointing/staring at people!
    This is something I have been told.. and it is actually the same in Europe.. I am not sure how impolite is in China!! It is certainly not impolite for a Chinese to point and stare directly to a laowai!
  • Yawning with open mouth without covering with the hand!
    This is also a grey area, like the previous entry.. Every Western mama always tell to do it to her children, and I believe Chinese mamas do as well, but then when you really walk around Chinese places you see people do not really care about that!
  • Giving your business card nonchalantly!
    The exchange of cards is a quite official matter in China (like giving the money at a shop counter used to be): one should give the card holding it with both hands and in a way that is readable for the person receiving it.

This week I have been to the English corner with Hefei university student and to make them speak more I ask them to tell me some other impolite things. The ones I did not know or I did not think about are the following:

  • Asking the weight of girls!
    OK, I forgot this one! Same in Western countries 😉 of course!
  • Talking about death!
    Or pronounce the word or talk about it. Bad luck and bad manners at the same time.
  • Opening a present in front of the person that gave it to you!
    This is something so different respect to Western habits. The opposite. But Chinese, and Japanese people too actually, are very careful with this: only among close friends they open the presents in front of each other. I had already observed this at several Aikido seminars where the instructor was not opening the present in front of everybody.
  • Buying clocks or watches as presents!
    Because the clock is a symbol of death, the time passing..
  • Buying something yellow as presents!
    Yellow in China is the color of.. sex!!!! 🙂 (I knew the this before, about the color, I did not think about the present, but I made blushing the little girl that mention this!)

More school related impolite actions are interrupting someone else talking or maybe if chatting with several people, not asking questions to all the people in the group.

One of the girls there said that it is maybe impolite to ask what it is impolite in China.. 🙂 Next time I will check how much they know of Western ways and what it is impolite for us.. I am sure there will be more chances to share some laughs together!

FUNNY THING OF THE DAY – A special mention should have asking the age to a girl, that is not really impolite (as we consider in Europe) but I have been told by Chinese friends that if it is a man doing that, then it almost automatically means the man is (romantically/sexually) interested in the girl!!! Beware of this!!



One response

31 03 2011

About showers, how often are often enough?


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