Ever cringed and declined when offered a strange looking dish in a new country? Gawked when you saw someone dressed strangely in a different nation? If so, then you are not being culturally responsible and respectable. A few weeks back we discussed how important is it to know before you go. Preparing for your adventure travels by learning the customs and traditions of your host country can help you avoid awkward situations. After living in Shanghai for 4 years, I’m here to give you a few tips on being culturally responsible in China.
If you are luckily enough to have a native guide in your travels to China, then you will get to enjoy the best local cuisines the country has to offer. Chinese food is shared and served family style on a rotating glass circle in the center of the table. Always arrive on time to dinner, as punctuality is valued in China and a demonstration of respect.
In Chinese culture respect of the elders, or superiors, is of the utmost importance, and this is demonstrated in their table mannerisms. First rule is that the host always sits facing the open door. Second, wait to be seated. Usually the host will seat the most honored guest to his right followed by the second most important guest to his left. Third, do not eat until the host has begun eating. A similar rule is applied to drinking; do not take a sip of your drink until everyone’s glass has been poured and a toast is made. You never want to toast your glass higher than the host, out of respect. The phrase 'gan bei' is used to toast in China, translating to dry cup. After the first toast has been offered don’t be shy to toast the host and others at the table when you want to sip your drink. It’s a fun tradition so enjoy yourself. If someone is translating for you, be sure to speak slowly and allow time for the translator to communicate your point or toast. Showing your respect and gratitude to your host in front of others is recommended.
As a cultural courtesy (and to be adventurous and experience a new cuisine!) you should taste all the dishes you are offered. A major faux pas in China is placing your chopsticks straight up in your bowl, as this symbolizes death. At the end of the meal, leave some food on your plate. A clean plate in China indicates you are still hungry. Unlike American culture, after paying the bill it is uncommon to leave a tip in China.
Now I know chicken feet and scorpions (common Chinese dishes) may not be everyone's cup of tea, but by being open minded and studying the etiquette of a country, you will gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for your host country’s culture. Practice cultural responsibility on your next trip by studying the local traditions, customs, and language to better equip you for the adventures to come.