Holidays to China: Manners? What Manners?

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Holidays to China, without the awkward silence.

Spitting in the street, pushing and shoving, barefaced staring – just a few of the characteristics you may experience from people when you’re travelling around China.  It’s all a part of the Chinese charm; an old man crouching on the side of the street fanning himself with an old newspaper and spitting on the floor, an earsplittingly loud food stall owner pushing her way through the crowd, a subway train bursting at the seams with shoulder to shoulder sardines.  There’s just no place like China.

Whether I mean that in a good way is still currently undecided.  There’s no other place like it because only here will you see men and women openly gouging their teeth with toothpicks at the dinner table, only here will you hear an old lady bellowing loudly with a mouth full of dim sum, and only here will you play the face-off game with a market stall owner as you quibble over the price of a ridiculously poor pirate copy of Kung Fu Panda.

But I don’t care what people think of China.  I like its dislikeable idiosyncrasies, purely because it’s such a frustrating country to travel in, and travel isn’t travel without the stress of the unknown.

Holidays to China: Understanding the Chinese

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So what have we established about the Chinese population?  They’re rude, they’re loud, they eat with their mouths open, and their bodily fluids can be found on the floor.  Must mean that nothing would offend them, right?  You’re wrong.  A lot could offend a Chinese person, and believe me, you don’t want to get on the bad side of a hot headed Oriental.

Just because it’s ok to slurp your noodle soup and chomp unreservedly, doesn’t mean it’s ok to embarrass someone in public.  “Face” is a very strong concept in China, and you can either be “keeping face” or “losing face”.  You certainly don’t want to be doing the latter.  Chinese people are extremely proud people and it is not acceptable to shame someone in public – not that it would be likely for a Chinese person to be having an affair (very virtuous people), but if they were, you would never expose them.   Many things are taboo subjects in China, especially when personal lives are involved.  Don’t talk about politics.  Don’t talk about scandals.  Don’t talk about sex.

Holidays to China with Your Spouse

Travelling in China with your boyfriend / girlfriend / partner can be exasperating and exciting at the same time.  You could argue over who got who lost in the busy jungle of dim sum restaurants, you could fight over the best ways to approach people, or you could lose your temper over the bad choice in attire when you’re sweating from every crook and crevice of your body.   I’m partial to a little holiday bickering myself…..even in the romantic heights of Paris…..but you’ll find that it’s all worth it in the end.

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The Chinese are not great with public affection, or even emotions come to think of it, and you won’t see many lovebirds kissing and holding hands in China.  It was once frowned upon and seen as very disrespectful to give your other half a bit of P.A in public, but as the country westernises more and more, people have relaxed into the idea.  This does not mean you can start eating each other’s faces on the high street.

For anyone planning holidays to China with spouses, please be respectful and keep all hanky panky to a minimum outdoors.
Getting to Grips with Chinese Manners

So you can’t talk about someone’s affair with the neighbour, but you can tell someone they’ve put on weight.  You can’t take the last piece of food from a serving tray, but you can chomp loudly if offered. And if someone refills your cup with green tea, tap twice on the table as a gesture of gratitude (please be beware: double check on how to do this if you don’t want to look like an untrained ape).

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Holidays in China can be very eye opening experiences, and despite the emphasis on manners, the main thing is that you always smile and say “please” and “thank you” when necessary.  Even if you forget your Chinese etiquette, a warm, genuine smile will usually get you off the hook.