Wednesday, March 12, 2014

What You Need to Know About Living in China: Part 4 Traditions

In my last post, I wrote this nice explanatory paragraph talking about traditions.  Then the rest of the post was about travel.  Did you kind of wonder about that?  lol  I started out writing about traditions, but got sidetracked writing about travel, and forgot to go back and change the first paragraph.  Then I had to leave, so quickly published and left.  Oops....  lol  Anyway, pretend that I'm not so dumb, and let me see if I can do this right.

Every culture has strong traditions.  The way to accept them is to learn about how they started.  When  you know the "why", it's much easier to accept the "what".
Here are some traditions you find in China:

---I must first say that you will NOT find bowing.  That's Japan that bows.  Although sometimes Chinese will slightly bow just their head when first being introduced, or when receiving a gift.  I would say don't worry about any bowing at all, it's not necessary.

--Special colors:  In ancient days, the Emperor was the only person who was allowed to wear gold/yellow.  So it is thought of as a royal color today.  Red is a festive color, and is especially worn by women.  Red is the color of choice for celebrations of any kind.

--GIFTS:  Chinese have traditions of giving gifts, especially if they are invited to your home.  During the Lunar new year festival it is customary to give gifts.  If someone is above you in standing, your boss for example, then you give a nicer gift.  If they are your inferior in position, like your secretary, you don't give as nice of a gift.  Usually during festivals and such, when you go to the grocery store you will find prepackaged gifts such as fruit or sweets.  To the Chinese, these all have symbolic meaning.  You probably won't know the meaning, but you can't go wrong by just randomly buying the ones they have especially set out during the holiday.  In addition, it is custom to give red envelopes filled with money to children during the lunar new year festival.

--When eating, it is customary to lift your bowl, but not your plate.  In most Chinese restaurants, you probably will not be able to get a fork or knife.  So if you can't use chopsticks, you should bring your own utensils.

--In Chinese custom, especially in Taiwan, when you visit someone, they will offer you tea, and possibly other treats.  By custom, you must accept them, but you do not have to eat or drink them.  In my religion we do not drink tea (made with tea leaves) so I just leave the cup.  If you are eating a meal, or snacks, and the host sees that you like them, he will continue to serve them to you.  If you don't want to eat anymore, just stop eating, and they will stop serving you.

--Seating:  In Chinese culture, the seat of honor is the one that faces the door.  When eating with Chinese friends, let them invite you to sit in a chair, do not choose your own seating.

--Drinking:  In Chinese culture, it can be highly offensive to not drink alcohol when others drink.  Because  my religion does not accept alcohol, this sometimes can cause problems in a social setting.  I have found that if I just tell the person that I don't drink alcohol, but tell them what I CAN drink, and then toast with them, they are satisfied.  I've heard stories of customers not giving sales because the LDS salesman refused to drink with them.  But I think integrity speaks volumes, even if it isn't customary to not drink alcohol.  In some cases, if you tell them ahead of time that you don't drink, they won't even order alcohol out of respect for you.

--Firecrackers:  Chinese love firecrackers.  They are used for every celebration.  Most commonly, they are used to celebrate the opening of a new business, and also for weddings.  In some cases this is done just as an act of celebration.  But in some cases, people believe it scares off evil spirits.  So often you will be able to hear firecrackers even in the middle of the night, or early morning hours, according to buddheist or taoist traditions.

--Giving and Receiving Gifts:
When giving or receiving a gift, you should use both hands.  One hand gives the feeling that you aren't really whole-heartedly giving the gift.  I've read the history of this before, but can't remember the details.  Just remember to use both hands when giving or accepting.  To illustrate, let me tell you one experience.  My husband's employer had a man take me to the bank to withdraw our salary.  When he handed the money to me, he pointedly did so with one hand.  This signified that it was not his gift to give, and made evident that it was mine to begin with.

--Bodily functions:
In China, bodily functions are totally normal and therefore ignored.  Someone can loudly clear their throat and spit it on the street, or even on the restaurant floor, and no one even blinks.  The same with nose blowing, or children urinating in the street.  Burping, coughing, sneezing, flatulence etc, are all ignored, and really truly just thought of as normal.  In America we are so conscious about these things and get offended when we hear or see them.  But really they are natural, so I kind of like the Chinese view.  In addition, no one seems to be embarassed about huge displays of condoms at the front checkouts at the store, or buying feminine products and toilet paper.

In Chinese homes, it is common for the elderly parents to live with their adult children.  The grandparents are usually the ones who care for the toddler children.  This continues until the child is old enough to attend pre-school, or longer if the family can't afford the cost of pre-school.  The adult children care for and financially support their parents in their elder years.  This is why parents are very involved in the selection of their child's mate.  They want to make sure that they will be cared for in their later years.

Chinese teachers mainly use lecture when teaching.  So if you are coming to China to teach English, you may be dismayed if the students do not seem to respond to questions that make them think, instead of questions that allow them to repeat memorized information.  In addition, there is some social stigma about answering a question incorrectly.  Most students, even if they know the answer, will hesitate answering, out of fear of saying something wrong in front of their peers.

--Losing Face
This is a concept that is hard to explain, and hard to understand.  In Chinese culture, "face" is very important.  I think in the U.S. culture we also talk about "losing face".  The Chinese are very careful to not put someone in a position that makes them lose face in front of others, and do get upset if you put them in a position of losing face.  Pressing an issue can make someone lose face.  So be careful in how you speak to others.

Well, this is all I could think of for now.  If you have comments to add to some of these topics, please do.  Or if you have questions, please feel free to ask.

1 comment:

Rummuser said...

I find your observations fascinating and hope that you have not concluded your series. Keep them coming. I found your comments on bodily functions particularly interesting and amusing,

I just saw a very interesting Taiwanese film called Eat Drink, Men, Women directed by Ang Lee and was thinking of you as I was seeing some of the things that you write about,