Travel Guide: Etiquette in China

ByTravelling For Business

October 7, 2016
Etiquette guide to China

We spoke to Sara Jane Ho who has recently teamed up with Gatwick Airport to provide travellers with some tips on navigating the cultural difference between China and the UK.

So how does social etiquette differ between the two countries?

Generally speaking, differences in social etiquette between UK and Asia (specifically China) lies in cultural values – that of harmony and of suppressing one’s own needs in favour of doing what is best for the group.

English social etiquette is more clear and direct; Asian social etiquette is a fragile web of if, then and so’s because Asian society as a collective is much more sensitive to minute signals and changes in behaviour.

A good example is in the movie Wild Swans where the Chinese daughter brings her American boyfriend home to have dinner with her family. Her mother comes out of the kitchen carrying her best dish, beaming but humbling suggesting that it could still be better, to which the American boyfriend agrees and tosses salt and pepper over the whole dish, to the silent horror of the family.

Despite their differences, the spirit of etiquette between East and West remains the same – modesty and respect, consideration for others.

Here are Sara’s top etiquette tips when travelling to Asia:

Cultural differences. Chinese culture and communication is indirect with the desire not to offend. Answers cannot be forced, yes may mean yes, but yes may also mean wanting to say no. The best way to understand what your Chinese partner is really thinking is to communicate through your assistants or staff in the days after the meeting.

Bring plenty of business cards. In the West, unless at the start of a formal business meeting, it is viewed as very forward to stuff your business card in someone’s face. However, in China, it is imperative that you do so. Chinese like as much context as possible, they want to know exactly who they’re speaking to (company, title, position) before they start speaking to them.

Address people correctly. Knowing the hierarchy and who’s on top is absolutely essential, so you can ‘greet the most senior person first and work your way down’. The safe way to address anyone important is ‘zong’ (meaning manager or president) such as ‘Wang Zong’.

Know your culinary etiquette. Always pour tea for others first and yourself last – even if you have to reach across the table to top everyone up. Additionally, if you are ever eating with clients or new prospects in a restaurant, e.g. Dim Sum restaurant (which is common in China), always share the plates. Dim Sum is like tapas – there are savory plates and sweet plates. Eat savory plates first and save sweet plates (e.g. egg tarts, mango pudding) until last.

Sara Jane Ho has teamed up with Gatwick Airport to launch their new flight route from London to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific. Sara’s top Dim Sum etiquette tips can be viewed below