Every country has its own culture and unique customs that come with it. Understanding the social etiquette of the country before visiting can help to make the experience less overwhelming.
In China, you might be surprised to find that burping is considered a way of complimenting the chef or that a gift will be refused several times before it is accepted.
Here are 13 customs to know before traveling to China.
1. Chopsticks are never placed upright in a rice bowl.
Never leave chopsticks upright in a rice bowl. This is reminiscent of a ritual that’s made as an offering to the dead.
Chopsticks should also never be used in your hands when making a gesture.
2. Burping is considered a sign of gratitude.
In China, burping is seen as a sign of satisfaction with the meal and is considered a compliment to the chef, so don’t be surprised if it happens at the dinner table.
3. Tea cups are constantly refilled.
This tradition is known as tea tapping. Hosts will regularly ensure that teacups don’t go empty and when they refill the cups, the person whose cup is filled will tap the table in response to show thanks.
4. A gift will be refused a number of times before it is accepted.
Don’t be offended if you offer a gift and it is refused, as it is customary in China to refuse the first offer. Sometimes, the etiquette is to refuse the gift three times, though it may not always take this many tries.
In general, the expectation is that a gift is politely refused at first, even if it is desired, and will eventually be accepted after a few offers.
5. Spitting loudly in public is common.
It’s not surprising to see people spitting in public in China. Attempts are being made to try and lessen the practice, but it isn’t considered rude to spit while walking on the street or around others—even on public transportation and sometimes indoors.
6. Police will sometimes use geese instead of guard dogs.
In places like China’s Xinjiang province, domesticated geese are used by law enforcement. According to Chinese authorities, they have strong vision, they’re loud, and they can be aggressive, which is why they’re used in place of guard dogs.
7. Pointing can be considered rude.
In some areas surrounding Tibet, Jiuzhaiguo and places with a Tibetan population, pointing can be seen as a rude gesture.
Instead of using your fingers to point at a person or object, the customary gesture is to use your full hand with your palm facing up and your fingers flat.
8. Compliments shouldn’t be accepted graciously.
While it might seem strange to refuse a compliment, it is common to refuse compliments in China since accepting a compliment from the beginning can be seen as a sign of vanity.
9. Tipping can be seen as offensive.
While tipping might be common in restaurants in most cities, it is generally unnecessary in China and can even be considered impolite. Tips are typically only given when doing tour-related activities or at hotels.
10. You may be asked to take photos with locals.
Sometimes, Chinese groups or families may ask to pose for a photo with you, especially in public places. Often, the group will reciprocate by asking if you’d like to take a picture with them.
11. Split pants are often used instead of diapers.
Split pants are often used in China in place of diapers, allowing children to use the restroom when need be.
12. Full-face masks are sometimes worn to the beach.
Reuters/China Stringer Network
Having a pale complexion has been desired in Chinese culture for years, but the face-kini is a relatively new trend spanning some of the country’s beaches.
Created in 2004, the face-kini—a face mask that protects the skin from the sun and from jellyfish stings—started to appear on the beaches of the coastal city of Qingdao and has become popular for some of the women in China.
13. People regularly take naps on the street.
Naps are a common activity in China and you’ll often see people see people sleeping on the train, bus, car, or in unconventional places on the street.
The activity is so well known, that there is a website—Sleeping Chinese—dedicated to photographing the nation’s habit of sleeping in unusual places.