Travel Tips on
Chinese Eating Etiquette
- When in Asia, be
especially careful not to compare the way things are done there to
the way things are done in America. Don’t judge them as better or
worse; they’re just different.
- When meeting a
group of people in Asia, greet the oldest person first, working down
to the youngest, regardless of who your host is.
- If you are
traveling into Australia, be aware that you will be sprayed with
insecticide when going through customs. Take a scarf or surgical
mask along to cover your nose and mouth.
- Want more
information on Australia? Read WTA member Rich Vallaster’s article
Great Down Under – Sydney, Australia that covers what
to see and do in this beautiful harbor city.
- In Australia, the
words “hotel” and “pub” can either refer to a place with sleeping
accommodations or just a drinking establishment. You must ask to be
sure of the exact nature of the place.
- A male taking a
taxi alone in Australia would be expected to sit in the front seat,
a reflection of the country’s lack of social distinctions.
- Driving in
Australia is done on the left-hand side of the road, as in Britain.
An American driver’s license is good in Australia for one year.
- Driving in the
Australian Outback is hazardous, with bad road conditions and few
rules that are obeyed. You must take a four-wheel drive vehicle. Be
aware that distances between towns and service stations can be quite
- Bone up on
sports, especially rugby, cricket, golf, and fishing, if you are
traveling to New Zealand or Australia. They are popular topics of
conversation and people will be pleased if you show interest in
- Tipping is not
customary in Australia, but in areas around high-class hotels it has
become the norm. Tip waiters 10% at restaurants and porters $1/bag.
- If you’re
interested in the Caribbean, check out Caribbean Travel & Life
magazine. As a WTA member
and you can get a subscription at 50% off through our
- We can’t stress
enough the importance of sunscreen! Even if you wear sunscreen daily
(as you should), increase the SPF if you are traveling to a tropical
destination. Don’t forget to cover areas you don’t normally think
about: scalp, ears, eyelids, hands, as well as the tops and soles of
- Most Caribbean
driving is done on the left-hand side of the road. If you rent a
car, be aware that the only places that follow right-hand side
driving practices are Aruba, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe,
Haiti, Martinique, and the Netherlands Antilles.
- Read up on
customs rules before making purchases in the Caribbean. To avoid
U.S. Customs’ possible confiscation and fine, avoid purchasing
wildlife and wildlife products such as:
- Products made
from sea turtles, including tortoiseshell jewelry and sea turtle
- Fur from
- Feathers and
feather products from wild birds.
- Birds, stuffed
or alive, such as parrots or parakeets.
crocodile and caiman leather.
- Coral, whether
in chunks or in jewelry.
Chinese Eating Etiquette
- Learn more about
Chinese lifestyle and history by reading WTA member/Travel Writer
Gary W. Bloom’s insightful articles
Beijing – The
Center of China and
Sins of Shanghai.
- NEW The Chinese are a
reserved society. Do not initiate any physical contact (including a
handshake) until your Chinese counterpart does.
while in public in China. Avoid any loud or aggressive actions.
- NEW If
you are traveling as part of a couple, avoid any public displays of
affection in China, as these are looked down upon in their culture.
- NEW Limit the use of
your hands when speaking. This will annoy your Chinese friends or
business associates. If you must point, use your whole hand rather
than just your index finger.
- NEW It is considered
vulgar in China to put your hands in your mouth. Avoid removing food
from your teeth, biting your nails, etc.
In China, it is
acceptable to spit in public.
- Personal space is
less important to the Chinese than to Westerners. Expect people to
stand very close while you are conversing.
- Only about 30
percent of Chinese people have private telephones. Most street
corners will have a phone booth for long distance domestic calls,
but not international. For international calls, find a
telecommunications office. These are usually situated in or near a
post office, and are open 24-hours a day.
- Bring along
toilet paper with you if you go to a restaurant in China, as it is
not provided for you. Hotel bathrooms are generally much better than
those in a restaurant.
- In China,
everyone eats with chopsticks sharing from serving dishes in the
center of the table. It is perfectly acceptable to reach in front of
others to get to the food. Expect the hosts—who will have longer
chopsticks—to pick out choice morsels for you.
- Leaving a little
vegetable or meat on your plate is fine in China, but never leave
rice. It is considered “the sweat of fellow man”, and therefore it
would be rude to waste it.
- Expect a good
deal of toasting at a banquet in China, so prepare a short speech.
Also, practice a short song (in English), as you may be called on to
- Never offer to
split the bill in a Chinese restaurant. Either the host or the most
senior person will pay the bill. Since few
restaurants use soap when washing utensils, if you are traveling in
China it would be wise to purchase a personal set of chopsticks to
take with you.
- It’s interesting
to note that although China is geographically larger than the U.S.,
a single time zone is used.
- Although your
U.S. license may be valid in the European country to which you’re
traveling, it’s still a good idea to bring an International Driving
Permit (IDP) along as well. Take your license, and a passport photo
to your local automobile association to get one for a minimal fee.
- If your day’s
itinerary includes visiting churches, monasteries, synagogues, or
mosques, take care to dress modestly. Avoid shorts, short skirts,
and bare arms and shoulders. Showing the proper respect is always in
good taste, and many popular churches in Europe have strict dress
- If you are
spending just a couple of days in a European city and have one or
more museums on your “must-see” list, be sure to plan your schedule
carefully. Museums may be closed on Mondays and/or Tuesdays.
- If you are
driving in Europe, take the time to find out the blood alcohol legal
limit. In many countries it’s lower than the U.S. (.05-.08).
should go to
Destinations section to read articles written by WTA
members. Stroll through
Paris-Everyone’s Dream, and then go
consider good posture a sign of breeding, so be sure not to slouch.
- NEW There are several
small behaviors that are considered offensive in France that we
wouldn’t think twice about. For example, one shouldn’t chew gum in
public, snap their fingers, or form the “O.K.” sign with their
finger and thumb.
- In France, it is
considered rude to address a waiter or bartender as “Garcon”
(“boy”). Simply say “S’il vous plait” (“If you please…”).
- France’s central
bank—Banque de France—only offers currency exchange services during
morning hours. Commercial banks and exchange bureaus are open longer
hours. Check rates and compare ahead of time before making your
- It is especially
important in France to attempt to use the national language as much
as possible. French was the international language of diplomacy
until World War I, and the expectation remains that visitors should
be familiar with it.
- A practice
especially popular in France is to rent a room in a university’s
dormitory while students are on break. These rooms may even include
cooking facilities. Check with the university or local tourist
office in the town to which you’re traveling to see if they offer
- Phonecards (“telecartes”)
are required at almost all public phones in France. These are sold
at post offices, tobacco shops, and supermarkets. To use the card,
pick up the receiver, insert the card, wait for the screen to prompt
for “numerotez”, and then dial the number.
- Consider the
weather conditions of the area you’re visiting before buying film. A
generally overcast area (northern France for example) will require
high-speed film (200 or 400 ASA), while a sunnier locale will be
portrayed best with slower film.
If you are dining
alone or with just a couple of friends, some small German
restaurants may require you to join some other diners at their
table. Just go ahead with your meal as if you were at your own
- NEW A tip of 10% is
considered sufficient for German restaurants and taxis. You can
leave more for exceptional service.
As in other
countries, you should not form the “O.K." sign with your finger and
thumb while in Germany. Instead, use the "thumbs up" sign.
- There aren’t many
public phones in Hong Kong, but you can find them in hotels and
convenience stores. Cellular phones are very popular; consider
renting one during your stay.
- NEW When in New
Delhi, avoid talking to street people, as it is difficult to get
away. Never touch any of the products they are selling because they
will refuse to take it back and will press you for money.
- NEW Don’t accept
elephant rides because you may be taken a distance away and bribed
for money for your return.
- Driving in India
can be a harrowing experience for a tourist. Accidents are common
since there are no stop signs or traffic lights. Instead of driving
yourself, arrange for a shuttle from the airport. Be aware that taxi
drivers may press you into paying more than is reasonable.
- Bring business
cards if you travel to India, even if you are on vacation. Cards are
often exchanged at social functions, since they help the Indians
pronounce Western names and vice versa.
- Be aware that
it’s not a good idea to walk even short distances in India. Beggars
will likely besiege you. Take a taxi instead. If you wish to give
some money, do it from a taxi. Better yet, contribute to an
organization, such as a health clinic in a rural area, rather than
- There are many
rules about photography in India. Do not photograph transportation
facilities (airports, train stations), major bridges, or military
areas. Ask permission before taking pictures inside a sacred temple.
Authorities frown upon pictures that emphasize poverty (slums,
- Don’t refuse an
offer of food in an Indian home. Food and religion are interwoven,
and the giving of food is considered a spiritual act. If you cannot
handle the spicy food, let the host know ahead of time that your
stomach is ailing you and subtler food will be provided.
- If you are
following the Indian tradition of eating without utensils, use only
your right hand. As in many cultures, your left hand is considered
‘unclean’. Use it only to pass dishes around the table, since your
right hand will probably be sticky.
- If your mouth
burns from a hot curry, eat some yogurt, tomatoes, or fruit. These
will cool your mouth better than water.
- In India, there
may be a couple of hours between the time you arrive at someone’s
home and the serving of dinner, so have a snack ahead of time.
Customarily, guests leave immediately after the meal.
- American Indian
reservations often have restrictions on photography, especially of
people and dwellings. When in doubt, ask.
- In Indonesia,
eating is considered a private act. Even at a dinner party, there is
little conversation. Take your cue from your hosts.
- NEW When leaving a
group of people in Italy, be sure to say good-bye to each one
individually. It is disrespectful to leave with a single
“arrivederci” to the group as a whole.
- NEW Waiting in line
in a foreign country is a time when you must put aside your American
notions of personal space and fairness. In Italy, for example, you
may encounter gentle pushing and shoving while in line. Also,
friends or family members of the shop clerk may walk directly to the
front of the line and get served.
- NEW Gallantry and
respect are very important in Italy. On public transportation, young
folks should offer their seats to their elders, and men should offer
their seats to women.
- Customarily, the
greeting “Ciao” should only be used with acquaintances. When
addressing strangers in Italy, use “buongiorno” and “arrivederci”
- Planning a trip
to Italy? Skip the high season summer months (July-August) and go
either April-June or September-October. The weather will be milder,
the cost lower, and the crowds lighter.
- Contrary to popular belief, the Spanish “siesta” is usually devoted
to a leisurely lunch and good conversation, not a nap as is commonly
- In Spain,
businesses generally close between 2 pm and 4:30 or 5pm for the
afternoon siesta. Consider this if you plan to run errands during
- Women traveling in Spain should be
prepared to ignore the catcalls, comments and hard stares from local
males. You should know, however, that although this type of verbal
harassment is common, the incidence of reported rape in Spain is one
of the lowest in the developed world.
- In Spain, some restaurants will drop
your bill by 10-20% if you eat at the bar rather than at a table.
- Spaniards are very social, and spend a
lot of time in cafes and bars. To match their eating schedule, eat a
light breakfast, a small snack around 11 a.m., a late lunch
(1:30-4), a snack around 7 or 8 p.m., then a light dinner around 10
- Most Italians
vacation in August. Since many businesses and shops are closed
then, consider a different month if you are planning a visit to
- If you accept an
invitation to a Japanese karaoke bar, expect to sing! Being
uncooperative will not be appreciated.
- If you are
invited to a traditional restaurant, expect your Japanese host to
order for you. You can indicate what you like beforehand if you have
a preference, but otherwise just trust their judgment.
- Don’t be
wasteful, but you should leave a small amount of food on your plate
when dining with Japanese hosts. This lets them know you are full,
and that the meal was sufficient.
- Tipping is
unnecessary in a Japanese restaurant, as your bill will most likely
include a service charge.
- In Japan, there
is usually no physical contact during a greeting. Don’t assume a
handshake will occur; take your cue from the person you are meeting.
One of the biggest faux pas is touching someone in public; a slap on
the back, or a tug on the sleeve to catch someone’s attention is
considered very inappropriate.
- In Japan, avoid
eating or drinking in the street. If you purchase a canned beverage
from a machine, stand by the machine to drink it rather than walking
along sipping as you go.
- In Japan, when
having a meal with a group, make sure others have a full glass or
cup and they will reciprocate. Do not fill your own glass. Raise
your glass as someone else fills it, and acknowledge the other
person with a quick bow of the head. As a gesture of formality, use
two hands when pouring for someone else, or when holding your own
glass. When you do not want any more to drink, simply leave your
- To the Japanese,
it is considered rude to express your emotions in public. A poker
face is used to cover up negative emotions and to protect privacy.
Direct eye contact, used in the West to signal confidence or
sincerity, is perceived as defiance or a challenge in Japan. Show
respect by looking down or shifting your eyes.
- In Japan, bowing
represents humility. You honor the other person by humbling
yourself—the lower you bow, the more respect you show. Westerners,
although not expected to initiate a bow, should always return a bow
- In Japan, eating
outside a restaurant, and especially as you walk down the street, is
considered bad manners.
- NEW In Mexico, the
people tend to stand closer during a conversation than Americans do.
Backing away may be considered unfriendly.
- NEW Do not use the
common gesture for "O.K." (thumb and index finger in a circle) in
Mexico, as this is considered vulgar.
- NEW When purchasing
an item from a store in Mexico, place the money directly in the
clerk’s hand. It would be an indication of contempt for the clerk if
you placed it on the counter.
- NEW As you form
friendships in Mexico, the greeting will change quickly from a
handshake to a hug. Men have more friendly physical contact than
generally seen in the U.S.; these gestures should be accepted
- NEW Close male
acquaintances will often perform the "abrazo," a Mexican gesture of
good will. The abrazo is a combination hug/backslap/handshake and is
used in business situations as well.
- If you bring home
glazed ceramics from Mexico, only use them for decoration. Many
pieces have a dangerously high lead content, and should not be used
for storing or serving food and beverages.
- When traveling in
the Middle East, never cross your legs in a manner that shows the
sole of your shoe to others in the room - it’s a sign of disrespect.
- NEW If you go to
the market, don’t take a purse and keep your hand in your pocket
where your money is at all times.
- NEW Locals will
aggressively approach you to purchase their homemade pastries and
plastic bags of colored water. But, don’t succumb to the temptation
no matter how good they look if you want to stay healthy. You don’t
know under what conditions these were prepared and the water is most
likely tainted. Just respond with “No Chico.”
- Filipinos tend to
be shy. In order not to offend, they may answer “yes” to a question
when they mean “no”, or they may not answer at all. If you are
unsure a response is genuine, gently reword the question, giving the
person a chance to change the answer, or drop the issue altogether.
For this same reason, in a business situation, don’t rely on a
verbal agreement. Try to get a written commitment at each stage of
- In the
Philippines, it’s customary to gain a waitress’s attention by making
a “psstt” hissing sound.
- Filipinos have
great respect for elders. Never disagree with them or offer
- Filipinos are
sensitive and easily offended.
- Because of the
heat, people may bathe several times a day in the Philippines. Few
homes have constant hot water; if you need hot water, ask your
- Because Filipinos
want to cultivate a personal relationship before negotiating a
business arrangement, business is conducted very slowly. Don’t try
to rush things. Be aware that deals generally are not concluded in a
- Don’t use the
term “Scotch” to describe things that originate from Scotland. The
correct term is “Scottish”.
sometimes tend to lump Scotland and England together in
conversation. This is offensive to Scots, since they are a separate
country, and are proud of their distinct heritage.