Dos and Don’ts
Public Behavior: “Saving face,” or avoiding unappealing public displays, is important in China. The Shanghainese tend to be particularly courteous. Avoid intentional provocation, and keep complaints, criticisms, or disagreements polite and discreet.
First 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 too.
Chopsticks: Between bites, keep your chopsticks together and place them horizontally on your plate or across the top of your bowl. Never stand chopsticks upright in your rice bowl: this is considered a morbid gesture.
Bargaining: Indulge your bargaining skills freely in China, especially in outdoor and indoor markets. Vendors may feign outrage, but they know the game. Start with 25 percent off the asking price, and go up from there.
Pinyin Pronunciation Guide:
“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 “whoa”
“ie” is pronounced “eeyeh”
“ian” is pronounced “eeyen”
“ai” is pronounced like the letter “I”
“ei” is pronounced like the letter “a”
Nihao or Nihao ma: “Hello” or “How are you?” Universal greeting.
Xie Xie: "Thank you"
Zai Jian: "Goodbye"
Duo shao qian?: “How much?”
Tai gui!: “Too expensive!” Use for haggling.
Zhe ge: "This one"
Zai na li?: “Where is it?”
Qu na li?: “Where are you going?"
Fu Wu Ren: Server. You might also hear “Xiao Jie,” meaning waitress, or literally “miss.”
Xiao chi: Street food or snacks
Xiao long bao: Shanghai’s renowned steamed little buns, stuffed with pork and crabmeat
Subscribe to Nat Geo Traveler
Available in print and for iPad®! See destinations come alive with 360-degree photos, videos, and more!