11 Cultural Faux Pas You Should Never Make in China

By Shawna McAlearney, CIO.com |  Business, China

You've flown all the way to China to sign a big deal that will help your company weather the current economic recession. You're the top man in your department and you are well rested and feel at the top of your game when you meet their executive team.

You know that hierarchy is important to the Chinese so you speak directly to the director, a woman, while you shake her hand. You touch her shoulder as you pull back to guide her to the table. You're telling them about your trip as you casually pass out your business cards so you stack up the ones you just received from the team and put them into your pocket. The preliminary meeting appears to go well. As it concludes, you jump up from the table eager to report back to your boss.

How many major cultural mistakes did you just make? Will you still be able to close the deal? (And don't miss 6 Cultural Faux Pas You Should Never Make in Russia and 10 Cultural Faux Pas You Should Never Make in India.)

Below is a list of eleven common faux pas that you shouldn't make when in China as submitted by international business people.

1. Accept and give business cards with both hands. Study the card first as it represents the person you're meeting. Never write on it or put it in your wallet or pocket, instead use a small card case.

2. When dining, do not start to eat or drink prior to your host.

3. Don't compliment anyone for speaking good English. Chances are, most decision makers had extensive international exposure abroad. It may also be taken as a sign you cannot find better things to compliment.

4. Personal contact must be avoided at all cost. It is highly inappropriate for a man to touch a woman in public.

5. Stand up when others enter the room.

6. Avoid embarrassing topics, such as acknowledging Taiwan's independence, freeing Tibet and Chinese human right issues.

7. When dining with a group and taking food from a common plate, use the implements provided and not your own chopsticks or fork, and choose the items closest to you even if you prefer something on the other side of the plate. As a cultural courtesy, you should taste all the dishes you are offered, but do not eat all of your meal or they will assume you did not receive enough food and are still hungry.

8. Show deference if someone appears to be senior to you.

9. Allow the Chinese to leave a meeting first.

10. Do not discuss business at meals.

11. If you are bringing gifts, clocks, storks, cranes, handkerchiefs and anything white, blue or black are definite no-nos because of their association with death.

Obviously, this isn't an exhaustive list. Tell us about the cultural mistake you made--or observed--in the comments section below. Don't you wish someone had shared their experiences with you before you became the laughingstock of the water cooler brigade?

This story was written by Shawna McAlearney. Follow me on Twitter @ms_shawna

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