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Cross-cultural Advice

  • I am not aware of the Chinese table manners; can I have some information about that?

    Of course, the main difference on the Chinese dinner table is chopsticks instead of knife and fork, but that’s only superficial. Besides, in decent restaurants, you can always ask for a pair of knife and fork, if you find the chopsticks not helpful enough. The real difference is that in the West, you have your own plate of food, while in China the dishes are placed on the table and everyone shares. If you are being treated to a formal dinner and particularly if the host thinks you’re in the country for the first time, he will do the best to give you a taste of many different types of dishes.

    The meal usually begins with a set of at least four cold dishes, to be followed by the main courses of hot meat and vegetable dishes. Soup then will be served (unless in Guangdong style restaurants), to be followed by staple food ranging from rice, noodles to dumplings. If you wish to have your rice to go with other dishes, you should say so in good time, for most of the Chinese choose to have the staple food at last or have none of them at all.

    Perhaps one of the things that surprise a Western visitor most is that some of the Chinese hosts like to put food into the plates of their guests. In formal dinners, there are always “public” chopsticks and spoons for this purpose, but some hosts may use their own chopsticks. This is a sign of genuine friendship and politeness. It is always polite to eat the food. If you do not eat it, just leave the food in the plate.

    People in China tend to over-order food, for they will find it embarrassing if all the food is consumed. When you have had enough, just say so. Or you will always overeat!

  • What Mascots do the Chinese Believe?

    Traditional Chinese folk legends hold dragon, phoenix, tortoise and kylin (Chinese unicorn) to be the "four mascots". The pattern of the flying dragon and dancing phoenix, in particular, is believed to be a symbol of good luck.

  • What Major Rites and Ceremonies?

    Chinese commemorate what they call the four major rites and ceremonies of a lifetime: birth, coming of age, wedding and funeral. Anniversaries for birthdays, wedding days and departure days also observed.

    Each of these four major rites follows a fixed pattern and the wedding ceremony, in particular, consists of preparatory rites and the formal ceremony proper. Altogether, the wedding ceremony includes the following steps: proposal; discussion of proposal; visiting each other; betrothal; delivery of betrothal gifts; setting the wedding date; fetching the bride; bowing to heaven and earth, parents of both sides and to each other; the wedding banquet; going into the bridal chamber; fun-making party at the bridal chamber; and returning of the bride to her parents.

  • Things about Chinese people’s names.

    The names of Chinese people are usually expressed as family name first and given name second. For example, a man called Zhang Wei has a family name of “Zhang”, and a given name of “Wei.” Among closer acquaintances, the names of older people are usually prefixed with “Lao…” which literally means “old”. For instance, “Lao Zhang” means “Old Zhang.” Younger acquaintances, on the other hand, are often prefixed with “Xiao…” which means “small,” so “Xiao Wang” means “Small Wang.” For those who know each other very well, the given name may be used by itself. However, if one’s first name is composed of only one character, they are customarily referred by their given name only by other family members.

  • How should foreigners greet Chinese?
  • How different are Chinese customs from western ones?
  • What's special about Chinese folklore?
  • How to use chopsticks?