Part of the beauty of travelling to far off distant lands is the opportunity to experience different cultures. When travelling, for example, as a Brit or European to Australia or the US we find cultural differences, but it’s the abundance of cultural similarities that’s often the most noticeable. When travelling to parts of the world like China however, it’s more often than not the differences in culture that we notice first and above all else. If you’re planning a trip to China in the near future you might find this discussion of Chinese customs something worth taking note of.
Although there’s little point in learning the language if you’re only on holiday, it is however always nice, not to mention polite, to learn the basic greetings of any country in which you’re travelling and China is no exception. Most of the greetings are usually accompanied by a handshake, but not a hearty, American-style handshake but rather a light, long (up to ten seconds) handshake, or a bow. If you’re unsure as to how to greet someone – wait for them to make the first move.
Dining and food
The food in China is, as you may well imagine, fantastic and if you love Cantonese or Szechuan cuisine – then you’ve come to the right place. Cantonese cuisine, the Chinese food most of us are familiar with, originates from Guangdong province in southern China and it’s the origin of Hong Kong and Macau cuisine. Szechuan cuisine, which originated in Sichuan province in south-western China, is the more youthful of the two and it’s well known for its seven bold, basic flavours used extensively – aromatic, bitter, hot, pungent, salty, sour and sweet. Dining customs vary widely from region to region but most full-course meals follow a pattern – snacks, beverages, main course, soup, starchy dish (baozi, dumplings, noodles) and dessert.
Chinese culture is very family orientated and the elderly are highly respected in China, so always wait for the oldest person at the table to commence eating before you do and never argue with an elderly person. Some other traditions that you should take note of include accepting ‘red packet’ lucky money – don’t refuse it, entering someone’s home – take your shoes off before entering and place them to the right, and don’t make loud or insensitive comments about ghosts and offerings – you’ll cause great offense.
As China is a communist country and there’s no official religion – it was banned for many years – it’s advisable not to discuss religion with the locals, and don’t try your hand at any missionary work whilst on holiday here. Whilst there’s more religious freedom than in the past, it is however still strictly limited and this is a trend that isn’t expected to change any time soon. The Chinese government does however recognise five religions – Buddhism, Catholicism, Daoism, Islam, and Protestantism – though the Constitution also forbids foreign control of religious groups.
Chinese New Year, possibly the most celebrated New Year celebration the world over, marks the beginning of the lunar New Year and falls between mid-January and mid-February. It’s a fifteen day celebration marked by fireworks, parades and the iconic dragon dancers. If you’re arranging your China vacations with a travel agent, as is advisable, you might like to travel to Beijing for the celebrations as the capital is considered one of the best places to experience Chinese New Year.