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5 Ways to Offend the Chinese

Updated on November 30, 2012
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Well, I’m glad the title got your attention. I lived in China in my 20s, loved it, and take every opportunity possible to go back and visit. There is so much culture there that I am guessing one could spend an entire life with them and still not learn all of it. I appreciate the sweet and forgiving spirit from many of the people there even though I unintentionally, yet intensely offended many of them.


Here are some surefire ways to offend the Chinese:


1. Stick your chopsticks vertically in your bowl when you are finished eating



No Chinese person will do this. One person said it is because it looks like the incense sticks that you would burn at someone’s funeral. Others told me bad things would happen to me if I did that, and others said it was some kind of death omen. Any way you look at it, this action is culturally unacceptable. Instead, place your chopsticks horizontally on the edge of your bowl.


2. Suggest "going Dutch" when you are out to eat


“Going Dutch” means that each person will pay for his own meal. This is just not done in Chinese culture. Generally whoever did the inviting is the one who will pay for the entire group’s meal. However, often even when I invited a friend out to eat, she would vehemently insist on paying because I was a “guest” in their country. I quickly learned just to invite people to eat with me at my apartment in order to avoid this scenario :)


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3. Don't show proper shoe etiquette



Showing the bottom of your feet or shoes to them is incredibly rude. Even sitting with your ankle crossed over your opposite knee with the bottom of your foot pointing in someone’s direction is taboo. Shoes and feet are dirty; they are at the very bottom of a person. Showing a Chinese person this side of you is equivalent to saying he is completely beneath you.



We have seen this “cultural rule” in another context also. Remember when the Iraqi guy threw his shoe at President Bush in 2008? His choice of a shoe, rather than his belt or a book, was deliberate and degrading.



Another shoe rule: remove your shoes when entering someone’s home. I’m not sure if this is because it is offensive or merely because they don’t want you to track dirt into their residences. Many hosts provide slippers for guests to wear.


4. Write a letter in red ink


Your recipient will think you want her to die. I don't know the reason behind this.


5. Take the seat of honor



This is not just a New Testament idea. Luke wrote, "When he [Jesus] noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 14:7-11 (NIV)



What is the honorable seat, you ask? It is the one farthest from the door. This is so counter-intuitive to me. When I grew up, we were taught that sitting in the farthest seat was the polite thing to do. Then people didn’t have to step over you to get to their seat. Not in China. The most respected, generally the oldest person in the gathering, gets the seat at the back of the room. There he can be served and will not be expected to get up and help with any of the preparations or hosting. Also, he will never be inconvenienced by others who need to get up.


And 2 extras just for fun...


Call them Orientals.

They are not Oriental. They are Asian or Chinese. The term “Oriental” is for things not people – rugs, jewels, art, etc.


Turn your back to an older person.

This is a sign of deep disrespect.


I hope you won’t use this list for harm. It is meant to make you aware of some differences between our cultures so you WON’T offend them. The Chinese offended me often as well, until I started understanding more of their culture. You can read about those experiences in 5 Ways the Chinese Will Offend You.



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    • I Am Rosa profile image

      Rosa Marchisella 4 years ago from Canada

      Interesting stuff! Some of those things are offensive to me, too and I'm not Asian. IE. paying for the bill when you invite someone out (they ARE your guest), removing your shoes when you enter someone's home - these were taught to me as just good manners.

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
      Author

      ExpectGreatThings 4 years ago from Illinois

      Those are good points. I guess it depends on the situation, but if just I'm catching a bite to eat with a friend, I normally wouldn't offer to pay.

      I am very interested to hear that you remove your shoes when you enter someone's home. Where I grew up (in the Southern US) it was rude to take your shoes off at someone else's house. It was disrespectful and showed improper informality. I live in Illinois now, and I take my shoes off everywhere I go! Shoes get so dirty up here, especially in the winter, that I can't imagine traipsing through someone's house with sludge. It's bizarre to me that I had never realized that even this culture is different from where I was raised! Thank you for helping me think through that :)

    • I Am Rosa profile image

      Rosa Marchisella 4 years ago from Canada

      I agree that situation helps determine the approach. If I invite someone, I pay. If it's lunch with a co-worker or friend, going out for "drinks" or a social hangout, etc. everyone usually pay for themselves.

      My hubby is from the southern US also and he'd never heard of taking off your shoes in someone else's house, either. I'm from Canada, but not all Canadians do it, either. I'm not sure if it's because I grew up with a European influence (my dad and most of the family friends are Italian), but as you said, lots of sludge and since I was the one responsible for cleaning the floors, I appreciated it when people took their shoes off :-)

    • shofarcall profile image

      shofarcall 4 years ago

      Hello EGT, This is fascinating! I went to China years ago, before foreigners were really allowed in the country. There was a lot of red tape to get permission to enter the country and permission was usually only given for business, seldom for tourism and then only if on an organised tour. There was only one Western Hotel in Shanghai then, and you had to book a room 6 months in advance. It was an amazing experience. Late 70's.

      Wish I had known these things then, not that I think I did any of those things though! Voted interesting and useful.

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
      Author

      ExpectGreatThings 4 years ago from Illinois

      I Am Rosa, I am a culture addict, so thank you for sharing yours! Finding out how different people do different things never gets old. And if I had been in charge of cleaning the floors growing up, I probably would have instituted a no-shoes-in-the-house-rule too!

      Shofarcall, your experience is fascinating. It must have been a completely different world then. Some of the ex-pats when I lived there had been there for a long time - if I remember right it was in the 80s. They used to tell stories of how China used to be. One of them had left a pair of socks (I think) in a hotel room near Beijing, and they mailed them to him when he was staying in a different hotel across the country. Things like that blow my mind. They had some serious control over the whereabouts of foreigners. I cannot even fathom something like that happening in the US.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 4 years ago from United States

      Very interesting & well written. Voted up & shared. --Jill

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 4 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      My hubby and I have made friends with a Chinese family here. I love their culture, it is based on so much respect. I am glad to find this information! I will have to watch my chop sticks and my feet! Great hub, voted up and interesting! :)

    • Radcliff profile image

      Liz Davis 4 years ago from Hudson, FL

      So interesting! I visited Hong Kong and mainland China back in 2000. It was a fantastic experience (except for the squatty potties--I wasn't too fond of those LOL). Thanks for sharing these tips.

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
      Author

      ExpectGreatThings 4 years ago from Illinois

      Hi Dirt Farmer, Thank you for reading and sharing and your sweet compliment!

      Sgbrown, It is always nice to meet an Okie :) And I'm glad that you've befriended a Chinese family. I'm sure they cherish their friendship with you. I agree that their culture really grasps the concept of respect. I wish we had more of that in ours!

      Radcliff, Oh the squatty potties! Has anyone written a hub on using the bathroom in China? That would be a fun one! I'm glad you had a good experience. Thanks for commenting!

    • Anti-Valentine profile image

      Anti-Valentine 4 years ago from My lair

      Someone once told me once that spitting is incredibly disrespectful to the Chinese. Then again I'm quite sure we'd all be offended if someone spit in our direction. It just offends them even more so apparently.

    • I Am Rosa profile image

      Rosa Marchisella 4 years ago from Canada

      Um .... you know you HAVE to write about the potties now, right? :-p lol That's actually a good topic for folk who don't have experience abroad. A lot of travellers are shocked by bathrooms and toilet practices in other countries (WHAT? There's just a hole in the floor? I have to pay for TP?, etc). Potty Expectations by Country ... you could do a whole travel book on just that ;-)

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
      Author

      ExpectGreatThings 4 years ago from Illinois

      Anti-Valentine - I am very curious about the spitting comment. China is not a small country, so there could definitely be variations in their customs, but where I lived everyone spit. My husband just loved having the freedom to spit in public :) Now you've made me want to go look that up! Thank you for your comment.

      I Am Rosa - I am tempted! I know you are a kindred spirit when the conversation can lightly fall on potty-talk :) It sounds like you have plenty of experience in the Toilets and Travels area too. So let me know when you finish a hub on it!

    • I Am Rosa profile image

      Rosa Marchisella 4 years ago from Canada

      LOL - When I was typing that message, I was thinking, "Oh dear! We've fallen into potty-talk in public!" :-0 Ahhhh - the bonding between Hubbers ;-) lol

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
      Author

      ExpectGreatThings 4 years ago from Illinois

      I love it!

    • Anti-Valentine profile image

      Anti-Valentine 4 years ago from My lair

      Well, it was a Caucasian person who told me this, so take it for what it's worth. Maybe if a Caucasian person or a person of a different ethnicity spits at them, then it is considered offensive. Anyway, I don't want to get in to anything racial here. Basically there's a difference between spitting, and spitting at someone.

    • poojasd7 profile image

      poojasd7 4 years ago from India

      Interesting mannerisms! I was not aware of many of these cultural nuggets.

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
      Author

      ExpectGreatThings 4 years ago from Illinois

      Anti-Valentine - that makes a lot more sense. I thought you were just talking about spitting in general, but I could see how they would be extra offended at being spit AT! Thanks for clarifying :)

      Poojasd - Thank you for your comment. It is nice to meet you.

    • Suzie HQ profile image

      Suzanne Ridgeway 4 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Great points to remember when visiting China and some are certainly more common like shoe removal at the front door of homes. This was the case in Turkish homes I visited and even here my brother prefers we remove shoes. Well done, voted useful, interesting!

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
      Author

      ExpectGreatThings 4 years ago from Illinois

      Thank you Suzie HQ! I love love love Turkey and am hoping we get to go back for a visit soon. Just thinking about it makes me hungry for a doner. We don't wear shoes in the house either. Maybe I should take that part out; it seems to be prevalent all over the world. I don't think it's as common everywhere to think the bottom of feet are offensive, however. Thank you for stopping by!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I thought I would go back and read one of your older hubs. Articles like this one are so important in bridging the race gap around the world. There are things on this list I simply never would have known if it weren't for this article. Well done, Ginger, and thank you for the information.

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
      Author

      ExpectGreatThings 3 years ago from Illinois

      Bill, I'm not sure how you manage to fit so many things into your days, but I so appreciate that you take the time to encourage me. It is energizing for me to explore other cultures; I'm glad the information was helpful. Thanks for reading!

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