5 Ways to Offend the Chinese
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 :)
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.