Dos and Don'ts

"Saving face," or avoiding unappealing public displays, is important in China, but perhaps more lax in Beijing because of the extreme expressiveness and no-holds-barred animation of the regional character, and the influx of a rough-and-tumble rural migrant population. Still, avoid intentional provocation, and keep complaints, criticisms, or disagreements polite and discreet.

Good Impressions: If you are laowai (a foreigner, or non-Chinese), you will win points for efforts to use the language or demonstrate knowledge of the culture. It builds trust and goodwill.

Bowing: This is largely a lost formality in today's China. Nods and (gentle) handshakes are an appropriate greeting.

Business Cards: When receiving someone's business card, accept it with both hands and a slight bow, read it in their presence, and take pains to stow it safely away—in their presence. Do not bend or write on the card.

Drinking: The Chinese can be heavy drinkers—and take it personally if you don't follow suit. Mirror the actions of your Chinese colleagues—when they lift their glasses, lift yours.

Chopsticks: Keep your chopsticks together and place them sideways on your plate or across the top of your bowl. Never stand chopsticks upright in your rice bowl: This is an impolite gesture.

Bargaining: Indulge your bargaining skills freely in China, especially in outdoor and indoor markets. Vendors may feign outrage, but they know how the game is played. Start with 25 percent of the asking price, and go up from there.

Phrase Book


Pinyin Pronunciation Guide:

There are four tones, which are indicated by numbers or directional lines: 1 (flat), 2 (rising), 3 (dipping then rising), and 4 (falling).

"Q" is pronounced "ch"
"Qu" is pronounced "chree"
"X" is pronounced "sh"
"Zh" is pronounced "dj"
"Sh" is pronounced "ss" with your tongue curled toward the roof of your mouth
"I" is pronounced "ee"
"ao" is pronounced "ow"
"uo" is pronounced "aw"
"ie" is pronounced "eeyeh"
"ian" is pronounced "eeyen"
"ai" is pronounced like the letter "I"
"ei" is pronounced like the letter "a"
Beijingers end almost everything with "er" or "ar".


Nihao or Nihao ma: Hello or How are you? Universal greeting
Xie Xie: Thank you
Fu Wu Ren: Server. You might also hear "Xiao Jie," meaning waitress.
Man Zhou: Literally: Walk slowly. Said in parting, i.e. safe travels
Shi Fu: Literally: Teacher. Used colloquially to mean "sir"
Zai Jian: Goodbye


Duo shao qian?: How much? In Beijing, the regional accent might sound like Duor qian?
Tai gui!:
Too expensive! Use for haggling
Zhe ge: This one
Na ge: That one


Zai nar?: Where is it?
Qu nar?: Where are you going?
Dong: East
Xi: West
Nan: South
Bei: North
Zhong: Center
Hai: Body of water
Men: Gate or door, used in a lot of street names
Wai: Without
Nei: Within
Guo: Country
Jing: Capital
Jie: Major avenue
Lu: Street or road
Hutong: Traditional alleyway
Zhan: Station or stop


Xiao chi: Snacks, usually something hearty, like noodles or dumplings
Fan: Rice
Mian: Noodles
Bing: Pancake or crepe
Bao: Bun
Jiao zhi: Boiled dumplings


About Beijing and China

  • <p>Photo: The Forbidden City</p>


    Get travel tips, see photos, take a quiz and more with National Geographic's Ultimate Guide to Beijing.

  • <p>Photo: The Great Wall</p>


    Explore China through facts and photos, related features, a country map, and more.

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