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For instance, westerners are often surprised and offended by comments about their personal appearance (such as their weight or nose…or size of their nose).Similarly, don’t be surprised if you’re asked questions about how much money you make . In China, these types of nosy (pun intended) questions aren’t considered rude. For your part, you should avoid making any perceived criticism about China, even against the government.But it’s best to avoid hugs, especially different-gender hugs (although I’m sure plenty of Chinese men wouldn’t mind one from a hot Western woman).
But you might instead be met with some stony silence (until you backpedal and start dissing your own country! You might have an opportunity to make some new Chinese friends and find yourself invited to a meal (at a restaurant usually as opposed to someone’s home).
In China, restaurant bills are never shared (they don’t “go Dutch”).
Sitting in the back of a taxi, I’m always amazed by the non-reactions of other drivers after being cut off or almost run off the road (behaviors that would get the average person shot in Los Angeles, or at the very minimum, an angry one-fingered wave). The more sophisticated city slickers (and the government) are working hard to introduce a more universal civility to China.
For example, ahead of the 2008 Olympics, the government updated Mao Zedong’s original campaign against “Four Pests” with a new list: Smoking, spitting, queue-jumping and cursing. Being such a crowded culture used to living together in tight quarters, the Chinese comfort zone of personal space is much tighter than those of Westerners (especially Americans who are accustomed to wide open spaces! Likewise, there’s almost no concept of personal privacy, especially same-gender privacy. Some of my Taiwanese female friends — unaccustomed to the lack of privacy in China — told me that they used their umbrellas in the toilet to afford them a bit more discretion.
The etiquette rules that were hammered into them by their mothers have ceased to apply: Don’t talk with your mouth full and stop slurping! Which is to say, neither is “right” or “wrong,” despite the universal tendency to view our own culture as somehow “normal” (a term I learned in Sociology 101: “ethnocentric”).
The good news is that the Chinese give laowai (foreigners) a lot of leeway when it comes to etiquette.
Add the recent Cultural Revolution — which violently broke down centuries of social norms and effectively tossed all rules of etiquette out the window — and you’ll start to understand the roots of this Mad Max-like code of street conduct.
[For more info, see my “Why the Chinese don’t smile at strangers” article ] Queue-busting and pushing always gets the most visceral reaction from foreigners; we reflexively want to open up a can of whoop-ass at the perceived offense (myself included).
They almost all expect foreigners to be clueless to their customs so any possible offenses will be overlooked.
Having said that, I hope this information will help you be a good guest in China.