This article may save you from certain embarrassment and possibly even outright humiliation one day. Here are some tips on what not to do if you really want to win friends and make a good impression with your Chinese acquaintances.
Do not accept food, drinks, or gifts without first refusing a few times.
No self-respecting guests immediately accept whatever may be offered to them in a Chinese home. No matter how much they may be eager to accept the food, drink, or gift, proper Chinese etiquette prevents them from doing anything that makes them appear greedy or eager to receive it, so be sure to politely refuse a couple of times.
Do not make someone “lose face” or do not get angry in public
The worst thing you can possibly do to a Chinese person is publicly embarrass her, or worse, humiliate her. Doing so makes them “lose face”. Don’t point out a mistake in front of others, or yell at someone. Moreover, public displays or anger is a really uncomfortable situation for the Chinese to deal with, especially when the people getting upset are foreigners. Keep in mind that for a Chinese lose his temper is the height of rudeness.
Do not accept a compliment graciously
You may find yourself at a loss for words when you compliment a Chinese host on a wonderful meal, and you get in response, “No, no, the food was really horrible.” You hear the same thing when you tell a Chinese parent how smart or handsome his son is — he meets the compliment with a rebuff of “No, he’s really stupid” or “He’s not good looking at all.” These people aren’t being nasty . . . just humble and polite. So here’s an advice: Feign humility, even if it kills you!
Do not take the first “No, thank you” literally
Chinese people automatically refuse food or drinks several times (even if they really feel hungry or thirsty). Then, never take the first “No, thank you” literally. In this situation, even if they refuse a couple of times, you should offer them again. A good guest is supposed to refuse at least once, but a good host is also supposed to make the offer at least twice.
Do not let someone else pay the bill without fighting for it
Most Westerners are stunned the first time they witness the many fairly chaotic, noisy scenes at the end of a Chinese restaurant meal. The time to pay the bill has come and everyone is simply doing what they’re expected to do — fight to be the one to pay it. The Chinese consider it good manners to vociferously and strenuously attempt to wrest the bill out of the very hands of whoever happens to have it. This may go on, back and forth, for a good few minutes, until someone “wins” and pays the bill. The gesture of being eager and willing to pay is always appreciated.
Do not show up empty handed
Gifts are exchanged frequently between the Chinese, and not just on special occasions. If you have dinner in someone’s house, both parties commonly exchange gifts as small tokens of friendship and good will. In this case, do not show up late (Chinese people usually eat very early, around 6.00PM) and certainly not empty-handed! Large baskets of fruit for example are a very popular gift.
Do not address people by their first names first
Chinese people have first and last names like everyone else. However, in China, the last name always comes first. If a man is introduced to you as Lî Míng, you can safely refer to him as Mr. Lî (not Mr. Míng). Unlike people in the West, the Chinese don’t feel very comfortable calling each other by their first names. Only family members and a few close friends ever refer to the man above, for example, as simply “Míng.” They may, however, add the prefix lâo (laow; old) or xiâo (shyaow; young) before the family name to show familiarity and closeness. Lâo Lî (Old Lî) may refer to his younger friend as Xiâo Chén (Young Chén). A final example, professor Wang would be Wang Laoshi.
Do not take food with the wrong end of your chopsticks
The next time you gather around a dinner table with a Chinese host, you may discover that serving spoons for the many communal dishes are non-existent. This is because everyone serves themselves (or others) by turning their chopsticks upside down to take food from the main dishes before putting the food on the individual plates.
Also, do not plant your chopsticks into your rice bowl, it reminds of the position of the incense sticks that Chinese people burns in honor of their ancestors (so this is a presage of death). One last advice, when you are eating fish, do not turn it over, it would mean to turn over the fisherman boat.