By guest blogger Austin Guidry
China is a very hospitable place, as the Chinese are extremely open to foreigners and love being around them. If you run into difficulties along the way, the Chinese right out on the street are willing and glad to help, especially if you can speak a bit of Mandarin Chinese. When you stay in a Chinese person’s home, you’ll find that Chinese familial hospitality is top of the line. The Chinese culture is very generous. I’ve found that Northwest China is known for its hospitality, in much the same way as America’s Southern states are known for their hospitality.
In the Northwest, foreign visitors are still treated with respect. Your Chinese hosts will fix dinner, ask you to sleep in their beds, treat you to watching their TV and smoking their cigarettes, let you drink their beer, etc.. Most travelers might feel awkward accepting such hospitality, but remember that your Chinese hosts want to do this for you, and oftentimes declining may be offensive to them. In China, there is a bargaining process with accepting or refusing gifts from your Chinese guest. To refuse, just wear them down, but I’ll say it’s a difficult task. If accept gifts from your Chinese hosts, it’s customary to first say “no, thank you,” before accepting, and let the process continue from there.. You’ll see what I’m talking about.
The most obvious showing of Chinese hospitality is within the home. When a Chinese person treats you to a meal in their home, you will be offered such items as a cigarette, fruit, or sunflower seeds. These things they have bought especially for you, so do partake, but remember to save space for the main dining experience.
The Chinese always present more food than a guest can reasonably eat. When you are done eating, your hosts will invariably say, “You didn’t eat much, please eat more.” When you tell them you’ve had your fill, they will offer two or three more times, and even place more in your bowl. Before you are permitted to stop eating, there’s always a negotiation process, and that will take a little getting used to. You’ll probably eat too much at first, (and every Chinese host is different), but you’ll figure it out eventually. And do be careful with the 白酒 [bai jiu- literally white alcohol, hard liquor].
Soup and fruit will be offered after the meal to aid with stomach digestion. After all you’ve just eaten a massive quantity of food. After that, your Chinese host will once again offer you sunflower seeds, even more fruit, and more cigarettes. All of this is part of China’s giving culture. Once you’re really done, just tell your hosts that you are very satisfied and could not possibly want any more. But you’ll have to bargain a bit more before it’s all done.
As a foreigner in a mid-sized or smaller city, Chinese people are very nice and will help as much as they can, especially if you can communicate in Mandarin Chinese (so it pays to learn some Mandarin before you visit China). If you need directions, to buy something, or whatever, the Chinese will be there to help. And, even if you are standing around alone, the Chinese people will find a way to converse with you, and you may be surprised that sometimes it will be in English!
When you’re in China, remember that the people there are hospitable and friendly, so don’t waste your time feeling lonely or wandering around by yourself!
To read the entire post, originally featured in “Let China Sleep, for When the Dragon Awakes, She will Shake the World,” take this link. This blog is maintained by the author, Austin Guidry, who spent 7 months in China as Lanzhou University of Technology’s first exchange student. He is preparing to get his TESOL certificate so he can return to Northwest China to teach English.