Some Customs and Business Etiquettes in China
Address a person using his or her family name only, such as Mr. Chen or Ms. Hu. The Chinese family name comes first and is usually one syllable. A one or a two-syllable given name follows a family name. For example, in the case of Teng Peinian, Teng is the family name and Peinian is the given name. In some instances, Westernized Chinese might reverse their names when visiting and sending correspondence abroad. Therefore, it is always a good idea to ask a native speaker which name is the family name. Be aware that many Chinese women have retained their maiden name, long before the woman's liberation movement in the west, so don't be surprised if your host introduces his wife by a different last name.
For business purposes, it is traditionally acceptable to call a Chinese person by the surname, together with a title, such as "Director Wang" or "Chairman Li." Avoid using someone's given name unless you have known him or her for a long period of time. Formality is a sign of respect, and it is advisable to clarify how you will address someone very early in a relationship, generally during your first meeting.
Do not try to become too friendly too soon, and do not insist that your Chinese counterparts address you by your given name. The American pattern of quick informality should be resisted.Many Chinese businessmen now use bilingual business cards, with English on one side and Chinese on the other. Business cards are a symbol of professional status, and as a sign of respect, the proper etiquette is to present and receive business cards with both hands.
The Chinese way of greeting is a nod or slight bow. However, when interacting with Westerners, Chinese usually shake hands. Bear in mind that a soft handshake and a lack of eye contact do not necessarily indicate timidity. It only implies that the person is not accustomed to the firm handshakes commonly used in the West.
At a formal banquet, be prepared to give a brief and friendly speech in response to the host's speech.
When inviting Chinese to a party, serve a "real" meal rather than snacks and drinks.
When invited for dinner, it is considered to be proper etiquette to sample every dish served. Your host may serve some food for you, and it is nice to reciprocate, if you feel comfortable doing so. Always leave something on your plate at the end of the meal or your host might think that you are still hungry.
If is appropriate to bring a gift, particularly something representative of your town or region, to a business meeting or social event. Gifts indicate that you are interested in building a relationship. A gift should always be wrapped, but avoid plain black or white paper because these are the colors of mourning. Present the gift with both hands as a sign of courtesy and always mention that this is only a small token of appreciation. Do not expect your gift to be opened in your presence. This indicates that it is the thought that counts more than the material value.
Never give a clock, handkerchief, umbrella or white flowers, specifically chrysanthemums, as a gift, as all of these signify tears and/or death. Never give sharp objects such as knives or scissors as they would signify the cutting of a relationship. Lucky numbers are 6 and 8 (especially in a series, such as 66 or 888). An unlucky number is 4.
Here are a few more gift-giving suggestions:
Gifts to individuals should be fairly small in value ($10 to $15 U.S. ) If you are presenting gifts to more than one individual, make sure that all the gifts are roughly of equal value. And do not omit anyone present or anyone who may have been helpful to you during your stay. For this reason, you may want to take a few extra gifts with you, just in case.
Gifts to the company may be of higher value and should be presented to the head of the group at a dinner banquet or at the conclusion of a business meeting. Avoid very expensive gifts, unless it is a very important business deal.
If you are invited to a person's home, it is common courtesy to bring along a small gift -- again mementos from your home country or small toys for the children would be appropriate, along with some fruit. This shows that you are concerned about the welfare of the entire family and not just interested in a business relationship.
It is normal for a Chinese person to refuse your gift two or three times before finally accepting it. Accepting a gift without first refusing may be interpreted as a sign of greed. However, just insist that the gift is a very small token and that you would be honored if it was accepted. You may also be presented with a gift in return as a courtesy or as acknowledgment of a relationship. If the gift is wrapped, it is considered impolite to open it in front of the giver, unless he or she encourages you to do so.
Use the traditional lucky colors of red or gold to wrap your gifts. Avoid using white or black, since they are considered colors of mourning.
The Chinese also consider it good luck to give things in pairs or even multiples. So if you're bringing oranges, take along six or eight, instead of an odd number. The host will often give back part of the gift to you (as in the case of oranges), as a way to return some of the good luck to you.
The one gift that you should avoid giving to a Chinese is a clock. In Cantonese, "clock" is a homophone that means "to go to a funeral" and may be construed as wishing death upon the person. Likewise, it is considered bad luck to give sharp objects such as a knife or scissors because it represents the severing of a friendship. Flowers have traditionally been only given to those in hospitals, or worse, at funerals. However, this is changing with the times, but the notion of presenting individual flowers in even numbers still apply.
As mentioned earlier, food is a very important part of Chinese life, so it's easy to understand why there are so many rituals associated with eating. Here are a few:
Chinese tea is normally served throughout the meal. As a courtesy, the polite host or guest will be always top up the cups of those around him before topping up his own. And to thank each other for the courtesy, you will often see them tap the first two fingers of the right hand on the table. This little gesture apparently dates back to the time of Qing dynasty, when a certain emperor was fond of wandering incognito among his people. Since his companions could not bow to the emperor without revealing his identity, they devised the finger tapping as a sign of respect. Nowadays, it's also quite practical because one can continue to talk and tap his fingers at the same time.
Of course, you should use chopsticks to eat Chinese food. However, one thing you must not do is to stick your chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice. This has too much of a resemblance to incense burning in a bowl of sand, as in ceremonies to the dead. And you must not wave your chopsticks or use them to point at people, for fear that you can easily poke someone in the eye. It is also impolite to crossover someone else's chopsticks when reaching for food.
It is customary for the host to put down the quality of the food that is being served. However, do not agree with him or her, even if it's true. The proper etiquette is to complement your host profusely instead.
As in other Asian cultures, burping enthusiastically is a sign of appreciation, as opposed to that of rudeness in the western culture. At banquets, where you may be served up to twelve courses, try to pace yourself because you're expected to eat something from every dish. Again, the ritual is to refuse the first offer of food from your host, for fear of appearing to be greedy.
Turning a fish over on its plate is considered a bad omen, since it represents the capsizing of a boat. Instead, the fish bone should be removed from the top to get at the flesh underneath. You can always leave this to the host or the server.
Be sure to leave some of the noodles or rice behind that is served at the end of a banquet. If you finish it all, it implies that you're still hungry and that the host has not provided you with enough food.
Once the meal is over, you will notice that all the guests will leave promptly. This is contrary to the western custom of lingering over a cup of coffee. In fact, most Chinese restaurants will not even serve coffee, so be on your way!
Hopefully, this will provide you with some insight into the thinking of the Chinese people and a few of the differences in their traditions.
Bring a large supply of business cards. You may meet many more people than anticipated.
Keep in mind that in China , and virtually all other countries, that 3/6/00 means June 3, 2000. When sending correspondence, avoid confusion by writing your date in full.
As a health precaution, it is advisable for international visitors to drink bottled water, even in hotels and restaurants.
Bring basic cold and anti-diarrhea medicines and your own prescription drugs.
Avoid talking politics or religion. Good topics: Chinese food, sports or places one should visit.
If a Chinese person gives you a compliment, it is polite to deny it graciously. Modesty is highly valued in China .
The Chinese point at objects with an open hand instead of the index finger. Beckoning to someone is done with a palm facing down. Avoid beckoning with your index finger facing up.
Do not try too hard to "go Chinese." Chinese do not expect you to know all of their etiquette, and they make allowances for foreigners. Keep the above guidelines in mind, but above all, be yourself.
Do learn a few words of Chinese. This shows an interest in your host's language and culture. It also is a very good icebreaker.
Useful Chinese Expressions Hello . . . . . . . . . . . .
Nee Hao Hello (honorific) . . . . .
Nin hao Thank you . . . . . . . . .
Shay shay Cheers (toast) . . . . . . .
Gan pei Goodbye (honorific) . .
Some more advices
Don't be surprised if you're stared at in public places. For many rural Chinese (including those who have recently moved to major cities), it's unusual to encounter Westerners.
Do expect to see people spitting and blowing their noses onto the ground (without a handkerchief). These are accepted practices in China .
Don't pick your teeth or chew your fingernails: Placing your hands in or near your mouth is considered extremely bad manners.
Do write down numbers when discussing them. In Chinese, it's easy to confuse, say, 50 (wu shi) with 15 (shi wu). Likewise, when an English speaker says 16, it may be interpreted as 60. And do learn to count to 10 in Chinese. This will be helpful when shopping because Western hand signals for numbers are completely different (e.g., forefinger and thumb outstretched means "eight").
Do look to the right before getting off of a bus. Many bicycle riders riding between the bus and curb do not stop for exiting bus passengers.
Do take along your own toilet paper - you never know when you may need it.