How to Make Friends and Not Alienate People…in China

China is the world’s most populated country. Find out how to avoid offending the 1.3 billion people who live there (and even make friends) by following cross-cultural guru Dean Foster‘s advice on how to navigate this vast and fascinating nation.

Since the number 8 is a symbol of luck in China, here are eight tips to help you be a good traveler — whether you’re there on business or pleasure:

1. Use those chopsticks! But never cross them on your plate (it’s bad luck), never separate them on either side of the plate (it’s really bad luck), and never, ever leave them standing straight up in your rice bowl (it’s super bad luck, as this is a symbol for death).

2. When shaking hands, use a “soft” handshake: the western “grip and pump” is not appreciated.

3. When giving and receiving anything (a cup of tea, a gift, business cards, even your hotel bill), always use two hands, never just one.

4. Speaking of giving, never open a gift in front of the person who gave it to you. When someone offers you a wrapped gift, simply take it and put it aside. Opening the gift in front of the giver raises the possibility of disappointment being revealed on your face.

5. Pay attention to numbers. The Chinese consider the number 4 to be bad luck (when spoken, the word for four sounds eerily similar to the word for death), so try to avoid it if at all possible. On the flip side, the number 8 is very lucky, so you will do well to make plans to meet for coffee at 8:00 a.m. or bring your host eight flowers.

6. When dining out with Chinese friends, make sure their glasses are full, but never fill your own glass. That goes for tea, wine, water, you name it.

7. If you’re full, make sure to leave a little food on your plate. If you finish everything, your host will feel obligated to serve you another helping.

8. Talk about your family to break the ice with new acquaintances in China. But never ask how many children a person has — the nation’s official one-child policy makes this an embarrassing question.

Want more cultural dos and don’ts for your next trip to China?

Dean Foster is the president of dfa, New York, a group that specializes in global cross-cultural training and consulting. Follow his story on Twitter @dfaintercultura.


  1. Einat Marom
    January 29, 2013, 1:15 am

    About tip no. 6- if one shouldn’t fill his own glass who does it for him?

  2. MandarinStudio
    Victoria, Canada
    January 4, 2013, 12:04 pm

    These 8 tips are good to know but not forced to practice it in China, since China with her long civilization has also been developing as a land of infinite accessibility to any friends of different cultures.

    Chinese people are used to standing anyone “not knowing their culture much” (“不知不为过” in Mandarin) and really welcome curiosity and inquiry about China.

    Being open in mind and polite in manner will make one’s China tour full of fun and interests.

  3. 徐雄
    December 18, 2012, 2:40 am

    Welcome to China…… will find your friends at here

  4. lyse labelle
    November 13, 2012, 10:48 am

    every time I am in China, I am myself a polite, smiling, sociable woman, nothing more and Chinese people are always very nice with me ..I adore being there

  5. mktprof
    October 19, 2012, 12:51 am

    I would say it’s not surprising if some Chinese open your gift in front of you. It’s a suggestion of appreciation especially in metropolitan cities nowadays.

  6. tyler
    October 12, 2012, 9:15 pm

    Well, as a Chinese, I would say except 4th advice, the others are way to overrate

  7. Joe S
    October 10, 2012, 12:19 am

    Some consider a hamburger as just the bun… Hamburger with egg and cheese is just egg and cheese on a hamburger bun; don’t assume you ordered a hamburger (meat patty)