It’s a topic covered in textbooks in language classrooms everywhere: “How to great someone from X-country or Y-culture”. Today we’re going to take you through rules and customs of different people, some more tongue-in-cheek in their seriousness and others we hope are informative. Whether or not you really learn something new, we hope you come away with a renewed appreciation for how to approach other people, as well as a few useful Chinese words and phrases!
How to do it
At approximately 1 meter away from the other person, stand straight, lean forward slightly, stretch out your right hand. Grasp the other person’s hand, close your fingers around their hand using moderate strength, shake up and down gently 3 or 4 times, then release.
握手 (wò shǒu): v. to shake hands
Simple, overly-detailed instructions for something that has become synonymous with business deals throughout the world—if you’re reading this then chances are you know how to do it and have practiced thousands of times in your life. Is there anything you do differently than described above?
When to do it
In China, when shaking hands between men and women, the man should wait for the woman to reach out before shaking. If the woman doesn’t reach out or doesn’t want to shake hands, the man can nod or bow instead.
A host should reach out to welcome the guests first.
Younger people should wait for the elder to reach out first.
Juniors should wait for their superior/senior to reach out first in order to show respect.
上一辈 (shàng yi bèi): n. ancestors/one’s elders
While shaking hands is not a native Chinese custom, in present day it’s hard to find a part of the country, or even the culture, that doesn’t recognize the gesture.
How strong to do it
When shaking hands, it’s appropriate to use a moderate level of strength in order to show warmth and friendliness. In terms of handshake length, if we had to put a number on it let’s say if you’re meeting someone for the first time the handshake shouldn’t last more than 3 seconds; as a general rule, especially if you’re not sure of local customs, avoid holding the opposite sex’s hand for a long time. Of course, keep in mind that if the handshake is too short, you may be seen arrogant, cold, or perfunctory.
力度 (lì du): n. strength
When Westerners meet each other, they usually don’t ask each other long and involved questions. The topics of conversation between the two sides are generally not painful, and often superfluous.
A: Good morning, Peter!
B: Good morning, David!
A: Nice to meet you!
B: Nice to meet you, too!
A: It’s a nice day today.
B: Yeah, it wasn’t so good yesterday.
A: Bye, have a nice weekend!
B: The same to you, bye!
If both people are Chinese, however, the topic of conversation can get very personal, very quickly.
hēi， lǎo lǐ，zěn me zhè me qiǎo ?
嗨， 老 李， 怎 么 这 么 巧?
Hi, Li, What’s the coincidence!
zhè bú shì xiǎo wáng mɑ ? qù nǎ ér ɑ ?
这 不 是 小 王 嘛? 去 哪 儿 啊?
Isn’t this Xiao Wang? Where are you going?
qù gōng sī jiā bān .
去 公 司 加 班。
I’m going to the company to work overtime.
zhōu liù hái jiā bān ? lǎo pó méi yì jiàn ?
周 六 还 加 班? 老 婆 没 意 见?
Do you still work overtime on Saturdays? Doesn’t your wife mind?
méi bàn fǎ ， tā dài hái zi chū qù le .
没 办 法， 她 带 孩 子 出 去 了。
Can’t do anything about that. She went out with the kid.
hái zi duō dà lɑ ? nǐ xiàn zài zhù nǎ lǐ ? fáng zǐ mǎi le mɑ?
孩 子 多 大 啦? 你 现 在 住 哪 里? 房 子 买 了 吗?
How old is your kid? Where do you live now? Have you bought a house?
mǎi le 2 nián le .
买 了 2 年 了。
We bought one 2 years ago.
(kāi shǐ chá hù kǒu) àn jiē de ? shǒu fù duō shɑo ?
( 开 始 查 户 口 ) 按 揭 的 ? 首 付 多 少?
(Looking at the registration) Mortgaged? How much is the down payment?
yào huán 30 nián , shǒu fù 20%， suǒ yǐ yào jiā bān ɑ ，xiān bù liáo le ， gǎn shí jiān ， gǎi tiān liáo
要 还 30 年， 首 付 20%， 所 以 要 加 班 啊，先 不 聊 了， 赶 时 间 ， 改 天 聊
Still 30 more years with a 20% down payment, so I have to work overtime. Sorry I can’t talk right now, I’m in a hurry. Let’s chat another day.
hǎo de ，zài jiàn !
好 的， 再 见!
No matter which country you’re in, the important thing is that everyone is comfortable when they meet other people—there may be different standards and boundaries, but as long as you’re considerate and polite the details aren’t so important.