This is the final installation of our “Don’t Wear That Green Hat” series on cultural differences. If you missed the first three posts, follow the links here to catch up: Post 1, Post 2, Post 3.
#1. Vertical Chopsticks.
Inserting your chopsticks into food vertically is considered rude and can be offensive to some. Usually, this is how the Chinese people burn their incense for the dead, and the chopsticks resemble the incense. It symbolizes death. In some cases, I have heard that you may do that if you hate the food, but it is quite offensive and extremely rude. This is something to remember if you ever move to or visit China… because you do not want to offend anyone on accident. Just place your chopsticks horizontally on your bowl or plate and you’ll be just fine.
A few more things: You shouldn’t point with your chopsticks. Its rude. You shouldn’t clank your chopsticks on the side of your bowl. This is what beggars do. If you place the end you don’t eat with in your mouth (yes, even if you want to pretend you are a walrus… classic humor) you will be considered uneducated with a poor upbringing. Lastly, don’t stab your food with your chopsticks… What are you, A WESTERNER?
#2. Asking your salary.
Do not be surprised if you come to China and someone asks you how much money you make. It is not a rude question here… it is common like ‘Where are you from?’ or ‘Do you have any kids?’ Money and social status is important here. The more you make, the more respected you seem to be. With that said, I got in a taxi years ago and the driver asked me how much money I make. I told him… and he laughed at me. Yeah, he makes like more than twice what I do. He wondered how I could live on such a small salary. Haha! Poor laowai (in more ways than one…)
#3. When in doubt, order more food. (But an even amount.)
Back to food (because manners are important at the dinner table)! Chinese people generally order many dishes… usually more than anyone will be able to eat. But it is considered polite to do so. When you are with a big group, you always want to order plenty so that everyone has their fill. From what I’ve learned, the number of dishes you order must be an even number. Usually when we order dishes (the foreigners) we order 1 dish for every person. The Chinese will do this, plus one… although if it is an odd number, that is bad luck. The odd number symbolizes death. So this is the second topic of this blog that symbolizes death if you are not careful! Usually an odd number of dishes is only ordered at funerals. I have never been to a funeral, so I can not vouch for this… this is just information that I have heard.
#4. EIGHT is the luckiest number! NINE can be as good as EIGHT, its the luckiest number since the number EIGHT.
Here are some lucky numbers for you to remember. (If any of these are inaccurate, let me know. These are just how I know them.)
- is good. It represents unity. Can also represent being first and being a winner.
- is a lucky number because good things come in twos or pairs. It reminds me of double happiness that you see during weddings 囍, which symbolizes happiness in marriage (as a pair!).
- is good as well. It stands for a number of things, but the way I heard it is that is stands for heaven, earth and man.
- is bad. It sounds like death. SI.
- is good because it represents the elements. Water, fire, wood, metal and earth.
- is good because it means you are wealthy.
- is a lucky number in friendships because it represents being together.
- is a good number because it is prosperous. The current Chinese like this number because of the Olympic games starting on 8/8/08 at 8:08.
- symbolizes a long happy life. So again… lucky.
Basically, just stray away from the number four and you will be fine.
#5. Paying the bill.
I figured since I cover chopsticks and number of dishes served, you should also be aware of the ‘paying the bill’ dance that often occurs after a meal. No, it is not literally a ‘dance’ like the Charleston… but it is sometimes an interesting sight to see! First of all, the host of the party generally pays the bill. If you split the bill with the host, it is like you are saying that the host can not afford to pay the bill on his or her own. Even though the host pays, you still have to offer a few times to pay the bill. You must really try hard and look like you really want to pay the bill. A lot of this is acting. Eventually, give in and say ‘ok, ok, next time I will pay’ which may or may not ever happen. If you do not perform the ‘paying the bill’ dance, they may think you are a little rude, or maybe even stingy. And don’t forget to thank them! They are your gracious host! On another note, usually the person faceing the door is the person that is the head of the table and that person is expected, in some circumstances, to pay the bill. Over the last several years, with the development of WeChat pay features, it is a lot more difficult to do the pay for the meal dance. Now all you have to do it be the first person to scan the QR code and you will win that dance battle.
Meet the author
Jonathan Watts is a Public Speaking and Oral English Instructor at Sias University. Jonathan studied Radio and Television Broadcasting at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach Florida, where he met his wife, Lee Watts, who is also an Oral English Instructor. Jonathan first visited Sias in 2005, and he immediately fell in love with Sias, China, and Chinese people (and of course, Chinese food). Jonathan and Lee are on their 7th year teaching at Sias, and they have a son, Harrison, who was born in China, and a daughter, Eloise. Jonathan enjoys playing bass guitar, ukulele, and singing. He loves taking bike rides around town with his family.