Being a “proper” Chinese: Lesson #1

In this lesson, you will learn one of the rules you must follow to be a proper Chinese. What do you mean are there rules? Of course there are rules.

The first rule of being Chinese: When it comes to things like house work, paying for a meal or gift giving, if the other party says “No”, you “have to insist”.

Say you’re in a relative’s house and you’ve had a meal. Since your host cooked dinner, the polite thing to do is help to clean up. Clear the table and take everything to the sink, even though your host will definitely tell you, “Just leave everything there lah.”

Put everything in the sink and at this stage, your host will again say, “Just leave it there. I’ll wash everything together.”

This is a trap. The polite thing to do is to switch on the tap anyway and start washing up.

Wash up all the dishes, even the ones that were already in the sink. As you’re soaping the dishes, your host will say, “Eh, I’ll do it lah. Just leave it.”

Do not make the mistake of listening! Keep washing those dishes. If you must say something, it has to be along the lines of “no worries”, “please [let me do it]” or “you cook already, I must wash up lah”.

If your host is following the correct protocol, he/she will no longer ask you to “just leave it”. Three times is the ideal number of times to indicate refusal.

Two times is too few. It tells your guest that you didn’t really intend to clean up yourself (even though this is really the case).

More than three times is too many. Having to insist more than three times will make your guest feel awkward and heaven forbid that happens.

In cases of gift giving, the receiver will probably say something to the effect of “eh, no need lah”. As always, you have to insist.

Some receivers might even go as far as to push the gift back into your hands. If this happens, you have to engage in a push back and forth battle until the receiver accepts it.

Contingency measures:
If the receiver folds his/her arms so that you cannot push the gift back in, you should leave it behind when you leave the place (even if it’s a public restaurant). This way, the receiver of the gift knows that you are really sincere in your gift giving.

Similarly, if you have eaten out and you want to pay the bill – you should always pay the bill because this indicates social superiority (unless you’ve just eaten with your boss; it’s more polite to let him/her pay) – you have to get physical and force your money into the waiter’s hand.

If the other party wins, you should leave money on the table (equivalent to or more than the billed amount). If you want, you can even reinforce your actions with words like “if you don’t take it let the restaurant have it”. Trust me, no proper Chinese will just leave money lying there.

For more information, feel free send your questions to: [redacted]