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5 Ways the Chinese Will Offend You

Updated on April 18, 2013

As I said in a recent hub, 5 Ways to Offend the Chinese, I used to live in China. There are a multitude of things I loved while I was there – the food, the cost of living, the food, the friendliness of people, the marketplace, and did I mention the food? However, they do many things that we, in the West, simply do not do. It took quite a while for me to get used to these things. And to this day, I still have a little anxiety remembering #4.

1. They will lie to you

The Chinese have a code of conduct for people they respect. It is commonly called saving face. They do not want to tell you “no” if they like you. That is considered rude. So if you ask if they are coming to your birthday party, they will say “yes”. Even though they have no intention of coming. Their goal is to preserve harmony in their relationships.


Before you get too judgmental, consider your own “lie tolerances”. For example, every self-respecting male in the West knows the correct answer to the question, “Does this dress make me look fat?” Truth or not, the answer is “no”. Or would you ever tell your little niece that her drawing of a boat was terrible and she should not pursue her dream of becoming an artist?

2. They will publicly talk about personal matters - money, weight, and age

The Chinese will ask you how much money you make. They won’t even think twice about it.

In the states it is common courtesy to act as if we are not wealthy. In my mind I can hear many of you saying, “but I am not wealthy”. Consider this: the average annual income for a Chinese family of 3 is $9000 (http://money.cnn.com). How wealthy are you compared to that?

The people I knew who had that kind of money were certain to speak about it. We consider it bragging and rude, but they just don’t.


Also, they will tell you that you are fat. I was 5’ 5” and weighed around 130 pounds – not fat for an American, but definitely fatter than most Chinese. And they let me know about it often. Finally, I learned to treat this piece of information as if they were telling me I had brown hair. “Fat” doesn’t seem to have the same negative connotations to the Chinese as it does in the West.


Sometimes even before they ask your name, they will ask you how old you are. This one has never bothered me, but I’m including it in the list just so you will know :). To the Chinese, older is better and more respectable. They need to know if you are older than them to make sure they are treating you with proper respect.

3. They do not stand in line

When shopping or paying bills people just kind of huddle around the cashier. It is completely inefficient, however time is not a huge value to them. MANY times I spent over an hour trying to wedge my way toward the front of the group when I needed to pay my phone bill. As the Chinese are jostling around in the huddle, they will also be catching up with old friends or making new ones.


Craig Storti’s book, Figuring Foreigners Out, gives a lot of insight into this practice. He calls Westerners “monochronic” people, meaning that we see time as a commodity, and it is not to be wasted. The Chinese would be in the “polychronic” group. They see time as limitless. There is always more time, and people are never too busy. I learned a lot about valuing people over schedules from living in Asia.

Source

4. They completely disregard traffic laws

Travel in China appeared to be utterly chaotic. It is truly miraculous that anyone in the country is still alive. I rarely saw anyone stop at a stop sign and often saw people driving on the wrong side of the road.


And heaven help you if you are a pedestrian! Remember the old video game Frogger? Where the little frog had to cross the water by jumping on passing logs and lily pads and cross the road without getting hit by cars? Crossing the street in China is exactly like playing Frogger in real life. You cross one lane at a time and wait for the cars in the next lane to speed past you before attempting to cross the next lane.


Think about Offense #3 and the traffic habits of the Chinese will begin to make a little more sense. Everything sort of flows together in a big huddle. Vehicles, pedestrians, and bicycles just blend together as they each attempt to end up at their destination. If nothing else, they are definitely better defensive drivers than we are in the West!

5. They will invade your personal space

Staring is not rude in China. And as a non-Chinese person in a country of a billion Chinese, you better expect to be stared at.


Touching is also not rude to them. They will likely touch your belly if you are pregnant. Or they will feel your hair if it is blonde or red. They especially love to squeeze children.


None of these things are wrong; they are just different. When I started really getting to know the people in China, it became easier and easier to overlook our differences in culture and learn from them and cherish our friendships. This is a big and diverse world. I hope we will not get so caught up in our differences that we fail to appreciate the incredible uniqueness God has given each ethnicity.

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    • Bob Zermop profile image

      Bob Zermop 4 years ago from California, USA

      The title caught my eye, and I smiled all the way through the article. As someone who's lived in China, I've seen and lived all of these things, if only briefly. :)

      Thanks for the read!

    • LadyLola profile image

      Lanie Robinson 4 years ago from Canada

      Yes, all of this is true. I work at an Asian food market and 99% of my co-workers are Asian. It took me years to get over being called fat ;) and my friends are always hugging and poking and patting me. I am a cashier and yes, all of my customers do indeed crowd around the till on the busy weekends to the point where I get claustrophobic. And I cringe every time I walk through the parking lot, where I see people idling their cars right in the way of 6 cars honking at them. Thank you so much for writing this hub, I really enjoyed it because it touches my every day life on a personal level and put my very own thoughts into words.

    • mperrottet profile image

      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      Really fascinating article - it's always good to know the cultural differences. Voted up and interesting.

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
      Author

      ExpectGreatThings 4 years ago from Illinois

      @Bob Zermop - Thanks for reading! Isn't it nice when we can look back on situations that were formerly annoying and smile at them?

      @LadyLola - Thank you for your confirmation. I love your examples and hope that you also find as much enjoyment in working with Asians as you find offensive :)

      @mperrottet - Thank you for your comments and your votes. I hope you enjoy your cross-cultural encounters!

    • LadyLola profile image

      Lanie Robinson 4 years ago from Canada

      I do find enjoyment at my job and honestly, I'm not offended by the differences in culture anymore. In fact I have grown to understand and even celebrate them. I love my affectionate co-workers and I have many regular customers who make me smile and laugh every day.

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
      Author

      ExpectGreatThings 4 years ago from Illinois

      @LadyLola - thanks for taking the time to clarify! I'm sorry I jumped to conclusions. It sounds like you are a great asset to your team at work. I hope they appreciate you :)

    • vespawoolf profile image

      vespawoolf 4 years ago from Peru, South America

      This is a wonderful hub. We all need to be more tolerant. Some of these differences exist in Peru, too. They ask about how much things cost, they tell you you're fat, they don't stand in line and those who live in the mountainous areas invade personal space. But it's cultural and I've also learned to just smile within myself instead of becoming offended. I especially like what you said about their view of time. I really need to improve on that one--I'm still stuck to my schedule and being productive. : ) We can learn so much from other cultures! Thank you.

    • livingsta profile image

      livingsta 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      An interesting read! Thank you for sharing!

    • NateB11 profile image

      Nathan Bernardo 4 years ago from California, United States of America

      I really like your empathetic and honest approach, and it is enlightening what you've presented in this piece here. "I learned a lot about valuing people over schedules from living in Asia." I like that a lot. I recently read an essay by George Woodcock called "The Tyranny of the Clock" about that very subject. I recommend it, it's enlightening too. Great read you shared here. Thanks much.

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image

      Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA

      You provided some valuable insights into Chinese culture. I'm sure that it took time to get used to some of these differences when you lived in China as they are so different from what we are used to. I think that this article will help anyone who has interactions with Asian people to be more understanding off what is their norm. Good job! Voted up and shared!

    • seanorjohn profile image

      seanorjohn 4 years ago

      you are spot on about the controlled chaos of the traffic. I visited China a few years ago and witnessed it. I made one big mistake apparently when I was hailing a cab and a motorbike cabbie picked me up. He rode like crazy and even though it was a short journey I had to cling on for my life. a Chinese guy said that if I had fallen off I would have been robbed by the cabbie and left in the road. Not sure if he was exaggerating or not.

      Voted up and interesting.

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 4 years ago from Illinois

      Obviously, there is so much to be learned from other cultures. I know I would have a hard time adjusting to the no lines and chaotic traffic. It's a good lesson to not be so schedule-centric. I do find it odd, though, that they have traffic signs and disregard them. Maybe if they were enforced, driving and being a pedestrian would be safer.

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
      Author

      ExpectGreatThings 4 years ago from Illinois

      Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting! You have made my day brighter!

      Vespawoolf - I hear great things about Peru from my little brother! Thanks for sharing a little of the culture. I am with you on the schedule/productivity issue.

      Livingsta - thanks for stopping by!

      NateB11 - I have never heard of "The Tyranny of the Clock" but it sounds like something I would really enjoy reading. Thank you for mentioning it.

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
      Author

      ExpectGreatThings 4 years ago from Illinois

      Stephanie - thank you for your sweet and encouraging words. I never did fully succeed at appreciating all of their differences :) But I'm thankful to say that I made some great friends.

      seanorjohn - I feared for my life on more than one occasion. I can't even imagine riding around on the roads on a motorbike!

      ktrapp - I agree with you about the traffic signs. I'm not really sure what the point of them is. Thanks for reading!

    • vibesites profile image

      vibesites 4 years ago from United States

      Wow, it's somewhat of an eye-opener for me. What we consider rude is just normal to them. Thanks for sharing. Voted up and interesting.

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
      Author

      ExpectGreatThings 4 years ago from Illinois

      Vibesites - thank you for reading and commenting and the votes. There are plenty of things we do that are normal for us and highly offensive to them too! Culture is just fascinating that way :)

    • citygetaway profile image

      citygetaway 4 years ago from France

      Wow, I was caught up till the end and would love to read more :)

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Having lived there, I can relate well to this, but it's just their culture and a different way of doing things, they are great people. One thing that I found difficult was when they admired my clothing and asked how much it cost. I'm not rich, but I don't remember prices very well, it's the article that counts and they found this very odd when I couldn't tell them.

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
      Author

      ExpectGreatThings 4 years ago from Illinois

      Thanks for reading citygetaway. Here's another one just for fun: If you are eating at a restaurant in China and you have a seat or two extra at your table, it is likely that some locals will sit down and join you. It shocked me at first, but ended up being an interesting way to meet people.

      BlossomSB - That is a great example. I don't know how they remember the prices of everything! It is nice to meet you!

    • cre8ivOne profile image

      cre8ivOne 4 years ago from Midwest, USA

      Very nice hub. It was great you made these kinds of observations while living there and I think it would nice to visit there some day.

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
      Author

      ExpectGreatThings 4 years ago from Illinois

      Cre8ivOne- I hope you get the chance to visit someday. It is a wonderful place with fascinating people. Thank you for reading!

    • shofarcall profile image

      shofarcall 4 years ago

      Great hub. I really enjoyed it after reading your other one re the ways we can offend the Chinese. I suppose it really does pay to do a little research before going anywhere that is very culturally different. Hope you will tell us more about your time there. God Bless

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
      Author

      ExpectGreatThings 4 years ago from Illinois

      Shofarcall, thank you for your sweet comments. I a lot of jumbled up thoughts in my head, and if they ever get organized I will write them down in hubs :) It is nice to meet you, and may God bless you too!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Most interesting information about Chinese I had no idea they don't follow the queue, thanks for this Hub

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
      Author

      ExpectGreatThings 4 years ago from Illinois

      Hi DDE, thank you for reading and commenting. It is nice to meet you.

    • Radcliff profile image

      Liz Davis 4 years ago from Hudson, FL

      I like how you say that these things aren't wrong, just different. That's cool. I remember when I was in China and my friends and I were walking through this mall in Guangzhou. People just stopped and stared as if we were all walking around naked with underwear on our heads. It was hysterical. And the roads--there were no lines and the taxi driver just seemed to randomly pick a spot on the road to drive. Experiencing a new and totally different culture is quite an adventure.

    • MarieAlana1 profile image

      Marie Alana 4 years ago from Ohio

      This is such an interesting hub! Thanks for the great information. I have noticed and studied about the Chinese personal space. Their "bubbles" per say are really different than the "bubbles" that we expect in the United States. Very Interesting!

    • ahmed hagag profile image

      ahmed hagag 4 years ago from http://pottery and papyrus.blogspot.com

      good Thank you

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
      Author

      ExpectGreatThings 4 years ago from Illinois

      Radcliff - you seriously made me laugh out loud with the "underwear on our heads" comment. I got plenty of those stares too. It is so fun to look back on now and smile at. But at the time it kind of wore me down.

      MarieAlana - About personal space: I wonder if they have a different view of "bubbles" because there are a billion people living in the same area. They are literally living on top of each other. They don't really have the luxury of giving people personal space like we do in the West. I bet there is a book written on this subject somewhere - or maybe you have come across one in your studies. Thank you for your comment!

      Ahmed hagag - thank you for reading and taking the time to comment :)

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 4 years ago from Nepal

      Cultural differences can sometimes lead us to difficult situations. Lot of Chinese come to our country, and unfortunately because of cross cultural ignorance we have offended each other.

      PS: Thanks for following me. Cheers

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
      Author

      ExpectGreatThings 4 years ago from Illinois

      It is sad that we don't usually take the time to overcome our differences and are instead content with just offending and being offended. Thanks for following me too!

    • Elias Zanetti profile image

      Elias Zanetti 4 years ago from Athens, Greece

      What a great article! I enjoyed reading it a lot! Voted up, funny and useful!

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
      Author

      ExpectGreatThings 4 years ago from Illinois

      Hi Elias, thank you for reading and commenting and thanks for your encouraging votes!

    • FullOfLoveSites profile image

      FullOfLoveSites 4 years ago from United States

      I think a lot of Asians do the saving-face thing by telling lies, white or not. And how I laughed a bit about the staring and the touching... though I would feel quite "naked" and vulnerable if they stare at me, LOL. I hope you can come up with more of these about little nuggets of world cultures that people don't usually see. Voted up and interesting, funny.

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
      Author

      ExpectGreatThings 4 years ago from Illinois

      Hi FullOfLoveSites, Thank you for your encouraging comments. And thanks for the votes :). I treasure the differences between my culture and the ones that I have visited, but it seems really hard to me to put these differences into words without sounding condescending. But I have a few that I'm thinking about.

    • prajwalpokharel profile image

      prajwal pokharel 3 years ago from kathmandu

      great hub.... learning more about other'sculture is fun...i am starting to realise there are many things common thing between my country and china

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
      Author

      ExpectGreatThings 3 years ago from Illinois

      Interesting observation prajwalpokharel! I guess you would be much less offended by them and much less offensive to them than Westerners. Thank you for reading!

    • profile image

      Chris 3 years ago

      Sorry but you must know that staring blatantly at people is considered rude in Chinese society, they just expect you to accept it because you're a foreigner.

      Do this : Go to any restaurant in China, sit down next to a Chinese person and start staring at him/her with the same "OMG an alien !" facial expression they have when staring at you, after some time (usually less than a minute) this person will get angry or embarrassed then stand up and leave or ask you (angrily and in Chinese) if you got a problem, this works every single time and is the proof that staring is not acceptable in China, except when the person you're staring at is a foreigner because many Han Chinese consider every other races as animals, so they stare at you like they would stare at a lion in a zoo.

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
      Author

      ExpectGreatThings 3 years ago from Illinois

      Hi Chris - Thanks for adding this your insights! When I lived with Uighurs I would ask them "what happened?" when I caught them staring. And they would immediately get embarrassed and look away. But I never spoke enough Mandarin to question the Chinese.

      I do think that most ethnicities believe theirs is superior. Maybe the others aren't "animals" but each of us seem to think our culture has the right idea. I'm glad you took the time to contribute to this.

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 13 months ago from United States

      I've gone to China 4 times for various periods of time and have studied enough Mandarin to understand short sentences. I've certainly experienced many of the things you have written here but I guess I don't consider it rude so much as a different and often more direct way of acting--especially the comments. There are some wonderful books by Peter Hessler (Peace Corps worker in China and then journalist) and his wife Leslie Chang (American Chinese who worked as a journalist and then wrote a book Factory Girls)that talk about the modern manners of Chinese people.

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
      Author

      ExpectGreatThings 13 months ago from Illinois

      Hi VirginiaLynne ~ thank you for taking the time to comment. Those books sound helpful! These were observations made by me when I was in my 20s and the explanations were not from a wide variety of people :). I would love to know more about the Chinese and hope that I'll still have that opportunity. They are fascinating and have a rich heritage. It seems like a lifetime ago when I lived there.

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