May 19, 2024 3 min read

How to blend in like a local in China

Its no easy task but its certainly possible. Like integrating anywhere else in the world it takes a few specific skills to blend in.

Outdoor eating in China
Outdoor eating in China

First a willingness to be open to your new environment and culture. An insatiable appetite for new foods. And most importantly a desire to try!

Being open to Chinese culture is essential, there are a few red lines you should not cross. Or at least not regularly, as your hosts will always accommodate for your learning. For example its massive no-no to leave your chopsticks across your bowl when you've finished eating and its a faux pas to eat with your bowl sitting on the table.

Why? well chopsticks across the bowl indicates the food is for the dead and as the living we shouldn't be eating their food, while eating with your bowl on the table can be likened to eating with your elbows on the table.

Fitting in with the culture and environment isn't all rules and regulation, there are some fun steps too. For example red pockets at new years for younger generations and the obligatory I cant take it game, "its too generous I cant" until you relent and take the generous gift as intended.

Honouring the dead is surprisingly fun custom if you are a fan of the pyrotechnic. With firecrackers and paper money (fake money) burning, the honouring of the dead is a colourful yet respectful affair. The money you offer buys your relatives a bit of luxury in heaven and the firecrackers to celebrate them. There might also be colourful decorations for the tomb including lanterns and colourful paper adornments.

As a traveller it is unlikely you will have dead relatives in China to honour but friends may invite you to take part in the ritual as an honoured guest at their relatives tomb.

Chinese greetings and farewells can be quite different. With hugs and goodbyes exchanged for pleasant sayings such as "walk slowly". Hellos will include addressing people with their proper titles, for example someone similar to your parents age you might address as aunt/uncle and their surname.

If they are close to you, you might refer to them as mother and their surname, however there is no distinction for men of your fathers generation that you are close to, they are still uncle.

Chinese people love their food so its important to take a taste to it too. And show some love for it! Chinese hot pot (火锅- huo guo) is a must and showing appreciation of it will always ingratiate you amongst the locals fast. Chinese hot pot involves custom and technique too.

With a bowling broth in the middle of the table you and your friends will cook vegetables and meats together, and you'll all eat from the same pot too. So a few things to know ahead of the big meal, don't be fussy about sharing the same pot, and don't feel hesitant to take part in the cooking.

Rice is king in China, you must finish what's left in your bowl. Not only is the waste frowned upon but you will be teased that the lightning will hit you for your waste.

A desire to try is so important. For example learning a bit of Mandarin will go a long way. Mandarin is a tricky language but comes with a bit of a codebreaking cheat sheet which is referred to as Pinyin. Pinyin is the Mandarin language broken into English letters that are almost phonetic, and I stress the almost. So here are a few take away words to remember with a little help...

When you've finished eating don't forget to compliment the chef and say "Hao Chi", which translates to good eat or delicious. Hao Chi in more anglified phonetics would sound like "how" and "Ch". This will be a big win if you have a mother in law you need to impress.

And if you're asked how much Chinese you can speak you can now say "Yi Dian", a little. Again Pinyin is almost phonetic and is more like "E,D,N".

Mandarin is tricky, but the great news is your likely to find regional dialects too. But don't lose hope this is just another opportunity to impress and blend in.

If you want any more hints and tips for blending in a travelling in China please find us at

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