A school trip to China is a real once-in-a-lifetime trip! Your students will never forget the opportunity to explore a culture so ancient and so different to their own. But it can prove a bit of a culture shock. Check out our guide to etiquette in China before you travel, to make sure your group is prepared!
General do’s and don’ts
Try to keep calm at all times – getting angry or emotional in public can cause everyone involved to lose face, which is a massive no-no in Chinese culture. If you have an issue with someone, it’s better to take them aside and discuss it privately.
Avoid politically sensitive topics – these include Taiwan, Xinjiang and Tibet, as well as more recent historical events, such as the Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen Square incident. You should also avoid comparisons between China and Japan. Good conversation points include ancient Chinese history and education.
Punctuality is considered a virtue in Chinese culture, as being on time is seen as a mark of respect for others.
Public displays of affection are frowned upon.
The Chinese are uncomfortable with strangers touching them – shaking hands as a greeting is fine, but just be careful to avoid things like back slaps, hugs or arms around shoulders.
Everything other than soups is to be eaten with chopsticks – so make sure you know your chopstick etiquette!
• Don’t twiddle your chopsticks
• Don’t lick your chopsticks
• Don’t stir up your food with your chopsticks
• Don’t tap your bowl with your chopsticks
• Don’t gesture with your chopsticks
• Don’t point at anyone with your chopsticks
And, most importantly, do not stick your chopsticks upright in the centre of your bowl as this symbolises death and funerals.
Eat everything that you’re offered, but always leave a little on your plate – eating it all symbolises that your host has not been generous enough.
Giving and receiving gifts
Always use both hands when giving and receiving gifts.
When wrapping gifts, try to use a festive colour such as red, and avoid black and white.
It’s considered rude to open a present in front of the gift giver, so don’t be offended if the receiver waits until you leave to open the present.
Even numbers are considered lucky – except for the number four. So you can give one gift or pairs of gifts.
Inappropriate gifts include clocks, which symbolise death, and sharp things such as scissors, which symbolise severing ties. If you would like to give someone a present, something typical of your country or region usually goes down really well.
There’s a strict etiquette surrounding introductions in Chinese culture. If someone is making introductions, do not take it upon yourself to introduce yourself, as that will be considered very rude.
Normally, the people of a lower rank or younger age are introduced first to the more senior/older person. And men are usually introduced to women, rather than the other way round.
Be prepared to answer what you might consider to be personal questions, on topics such as your marital status, family, age, job or even income – these are asked in an attempt to establish common ground, so try not to take offence.