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10 unusual Chinese customs

10 June 2019

A different world to the Western bubble many of us have grown up in, China offers rich history, dazzling landscapes and a myriad of unusual customs that can't help but leave you wondering what on earth is going on. Here are ten of the best:

Chinese customs

1. Never stick chopsticks into your food

Whilst grappling with chopsticks can be a bit tricky for the uninitiated on their first trip to China, try not to make the mistake of jabbing them into that succulent dumpling or bowl of rice. This is reminiscent of the placement of incense at a funeral - and is essentially an omen of death.

2. Long fingernails are the norm

Some men in China choose to grow their fingernails long or even just grow one fingernail particularly long as a symbol of wealth. After all, it's hard to toil all day doing manual labour when you might break a nail...

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3. Refusal is a part of acceptance

Giving gifts is a big part of Chinese culture, but it is also customary to refuse the first offer - sometimes even the second and third offer too. But don't allow yourself to become disheartened, refusal is simply a polite step on the road to acceptance. The same sort of thing happens with compliments - to accept too readily is seen as a sign of vanity.

Beijing and the Great Wall of China

4. Spitting is a thing

Spitting, thought of as unbelievably rude in the Western world, is considered to be a normal part of life in some parts of China where squeamishness about bodily functions just hasn't caught on.

5. You may be asked for your photo

If you've never experienced what it feels like to be an A-List celebrity, you might just get your chance in China. It is not uncommon for Chinese groups and families to ask to pose for photos with Western tourists. Enjoy the attention while it lasts.

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6. Face-kinis are a trend

Although here in the West we covet a tan with its connotations of exotic holidays and a healthy, sun-kissed outdoorsy lifestyle, a pale complexion is much preferred in the East. So, face-kinis, a mask which can be worn on the beach, have become popular in some coastal regions.

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7. Tooth-picks are a table staple

It is customary to remove those troublesome bits of food stuck in your teeth at the table after a meal. Just make sure you cover your toothpick activity with your other hand to keep up appearances.

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8. Eating strange things

Of course, this is subjective, but even the most fearless foodie will find that China has the ability to stretch their boundaries. From fish eyes to cow stomachs, from chicken feet to hundred year-old eggs, the Chinese have popped it onto the menu. Are you a traveller who will try anything once?

Buying food from street vendors

9. Talking at the top of their lungs

Perhaps due to the lack of space or due to the fact that the Chinese language depends highly on tone to convey meaning, expect to hear plenty of conversations conducted at maximum volume on your trip.

10. Face is everything

Respect, reputation and dignity is of the utmost importance in China so ensure that, even if you are annoyed or frustrated with something on your travels, avoid any overt display of emotion and remain calm and polite to stand the greatest chance of getting the result you are hoping for.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.