Address a person using his or her family name only, such as Mr. Chen or Ms. Hsu. The Chinese family name comes first and is usually one syllable. A one or a two-syllable given name follows a family name. For example, in the case of Teng Peinian, Teng is the family name and Peinian is the given name. In some instances, Westernized Chinese might reverse their names when visiting and sending correspondence abroad. Therefore, it is always a good idea to ask a native speaker which name is the family name.
For business purposes, it is traditionally acceptable to call a Chinese person by the surname, together with a title, such as "Director Wang" or "Chairman Li." Avoid using someone's given name unless you have known him or her for a long period of time. Formality is a sign of respect, and it is advisable to clarify how you will address someone very early in a relationship, generally during your first meeting.
Do not try to become too friendly too soon, and do not insist that your Chinese counterparts address you by your given name. The Western pattern of quick informality should be resisted.
The Chinese way of greeting is a nod or slight bow. However, when interacting with Westerners, Chinese usually shake hands. Bear in mind that a soft handshake and a lack of eye contact do not necessarily indicate timidity. It only implies that the person is not accustomed to the firm handshakes commonly used in the West.
In China, it is assumed that the first person that enters the room is the head of the group. Westerners should observe this convention so as not to confuse the Chinese. Important guests are usually escorted to their seats. If the meeting room has a large central table, the principal guest is likely to be seated directly opposite the principal host.
When exchanging business cards, hold out your card using both hands with the writing facing the recipient. Cards should always be exchanged individually (one-on-one). Never toss or "deal" your business card across the table, as this is considered extremely rude. Receive a business card with both hands and scan it immediately for vital information. Then lay the card in front of you on the table. It is demeaning to put someone's card directly into your pocket without looking at it first.
Meetings begin with small talk. Resist the temptation to get down to business right away. Also, avoid telling Western-style jokes, because jokes sometimes do not translate across cultures and can cause confusion or hurt feelings.
- At a formal banquet, be prepared to give a short, friendly speech in response to the host's speech.
- When inviting Taiwanese to a party, serve a "real" meal rather than snacks and drinks.
- When invited for dinner, it is polite to sample every dish served. Your host may serve some food for you, and it is nice to reciprocate if you feel comfortable doing so.
- Always leave something on your plate at the end of the meal or your host might think that you are still hungry.
If is appropriate to bring a gift, particularly something representative of your town or region, to a business meeting or social event. Gifts indicate that you are interested in building a relationship. A gift should always be wrapped, but avoid plain black or white paper because these are the colors of mourning. Present the gift with both hands as a sign of courtesy and always mention that this is only a small token of appreciation. Do not expect your gift to be opened in your presence. This indicates that it is the thought that counts more than the material value.
Never give a clock, handkerchief, umbrella or white flowers, specifically chrysanthemums, as a gift, as all of these signify tears and/or death. Never give sharp objects such as knives or scissors as they would signify the cutting of a relationship. Lucky numbers are 6 and 8 (especially in a series, such as 66 or 888). An unlucky number is 4.
- Bring a large supply of business cards. You may meet many more people than anticipated.
- Keep in mind that in China, and virtually all other countries, that 3/6/00 means June 3, 2000. When sending correspondence, avoid confusion by writing your date in full.
- As a health precaution, it is advisable for international visitors to drink bottled water, even in hotels and restaurants.
- Bring basic cold and anti-diarrhea medicines and your own prescription drugs.
Avoid talking politics or religion. Good topics: Chinese food, sports or places one should visit.
- If a Chinese person gives you a compliment, it is polite to deny it graciously. Modesty is highly valued in China.
- The Chinese point at objects with an open hand instead of the index finger. Beckoning to someone is done with a palm facing down. Avoid beckoning with your index finger facing up.
- Do not try too hard to "go Chinese." Chinese do not expect you to know all of their etiquette, and they make allowances for foreigners. Keep the above guidelines in mind, but above all, be yourself.
- Do learn a few words of Chinese. This shows an interest in your host's language and culture. It also is a very good icebreaker.
Useful Chinese Expressions