Chinese Culture & Qingdao Customs

Unlike Westerners, Chinese people do not usually greet people who they have not been introduced to or are not familiar with. It would seem odd if a person would offer a “Hi” or “Hello” when passing on the streets of Qingdao. It is also standard practice to have a name card or business card to give to people when introduced. Handshakes are not customary among Chinese for first meetings.Conversation topics for people newly acquainted also differ from that of English speakers. It is not impolite to ask about a person’s job, annual salary, marital/dating status, or age. In fact, these issues which Westerners may find uncomfortable are very typical. On the other hand, questions about family tend to be deflected or avoided.

Gift Giving
Giving gifts and treating people to dinner is a common practice in Qingdao, especially during festival days. When if a gift is given, it should be offered with two hands. Any gift offered with two hands should always be received with two hands. Even such a trivial matter of giving a name card should be given and received in this manner. While this isn’t a strict practice and in more informal settings can be overkill, in polite company or formal settings this detail should not be overlooked.Chinese, especially people from Shandong province, are big on treating people to dinner along with the traditional “ganbei” or bottoms-up toast to the occasion. It is common for a person to take a friend to dinner or lunch, just as in many Western cultures. The local Qingdao people often vie to be the one to pay the bill. They also invite other people or families to their residence to eat quite often.

Rice or noodles are served with virtually every meal. For breakfast, people generally eat congee (over-boiled rice), fresh steamed buns (mantou) from a local bakery , or a leftover rice dish. You won’t see bacon, eggs, toast or even cold cereal. At lunch a Chinese person generally eats a single rice or noodle dish themselves. In some areas boxes of rice with vegetables, bbq pork, chicken or duck, etc. is very popular. Dinner is a family affair. In Chinese dinners, all the dishes are placed on a center table. Traditionally, each person is given a bowl of soup to start of the meal. After the soup is finished, the bowl is filled with rice and everyone takes what they want from the dishes on the table. Other than hot tea, beverages are generally not served with a meal. However, in Qingdao it is quite common to wash your meal down with the local TingTao or LaoShan Beer.When one is invited to a person’s residence they should 1) eat at least two bowls of rice 2) eat all the rice in a bowl 3) eat some of each dish. Burping or slurping soup, actions which are considered impolite in Western culture, are part of Chinese eating and are generally interpreted as complimentary signs. There is also a special eating custom among Chinese called “drinking tea”. While tea is served with the meal, the phrase can be misleading as the central activity is not drinking tea but rather eating dim sum.

Dim sum is Chinese specialty foods served from early in the morning (as early as 6am) until around noon. It is mostly breads, meats and vegetables wrapped in pastry noodles, and other foods that can be picked up individual for a plate. At a tea house where dim sum is served, the patrons sit around a large table and are served tea. Hot water is also provided to wash the plates, bowls, and eating utensils (chopsticks and a ladle-like spoon). In some restaurants different dishes are carted around and patrons can pick and choose what they want from the cart. As with dinner, dishes are shared among all persons in the group. In other places a list of the different dishes are provided and customers can tick what dishes and the quantities desired. While “drinking tea” a group socializes. However, in Qingdao dim sum is not as popular as one would think. It seems that the traditional steamed bun filled with pork and vegetables (baozi) are commonly eaten for breakfast.

Family Relations
Although Chinese embraces the concept of of equality between man and women, traditionally Chinese families have followed patriarchal lines. The Chinese extended family tends to be more significant in life than that of Western cultures, and thus the different relationships are further distinguished than they are in English. When speaking for siblings, Chinese people almost always refer to them in respect to being older brothers and older sisters or younger brothers and younger sisters. The same differentiation occurs among aunts, uncles, cousins etc. Chinese relatives are even further divided by paternal relatives and maternal relatives. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, in-laws etc. on the father’s side have different tittles than grandparents, uncles, aunts, in-laws etc. on the mother’s side.

Colors and Symbols
In Chinese culture, there symbols have a different significance than in European based cultures. The color red is one of good luck and prosperity. Gold is the imperial color. White is the color of death (and is the color traditionally worn at funerals).  Black symbolizes misfortune.

The Concept of Face
The concept of “saving face” or “losing face” originates from China. This is a complicated subject and not easily set down as a rule or principle. Certain behaviors or actions are done in an effort to save face or to not cause another to lose face. For example, a person might tell you “maybe”, or agree to something they fully intend not to do in order to avoid completely rejecting a request or proposal, which would cause one to lose face. Often, “face” is given or lost in accordance to rules of etiquette or respect. Therefore it is important to follow customs and understand polite behavior in order to avoid causing someone else to lose “face.” Always accept a gift when offered (this principle does not extend to bribery), even if you normally refuse the gift. Always attend formal functions when invited, and bring a gift.

Chinese Culture & Qingdao Customs
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