How to Be a Good Guest in a Chinese Home

As a foreigner visiting a Chinese family, there may be many things that you will do or say that are considered weird because they are different from Chinese customs. These general guidelines will help you be prepared to impress your hosts. However, your best guide to what to say or do to show your respect to the family is your friends. Ask them what to expect and, especially, what to call everyone.

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Before you set out to visit a family, buy some gifts. Food is the most common gift in China, especially something that is unique from your home country or from the region you are in or something that's in season, especially fruit. If you ask your friend what you can bring, they will say you don't need to bring anything. It's always better to bring something, even if it's small.

As you are introduced to everyone, be sure to use their title to say hello. Again, ask your friend what to call everyone. Sometimes just 叔叔 and 阿姨 is enough for older adults, sometimes you can call them by your friend's full name + 爸爸妈妈. If they have a professional title, you should use their family name + the title, such as 王老师,李医生. Remember to address everyone individually when you leave. You shouldn't just say "Bye everyone" but show that you care by using each person or couples' titles as you say goodbye individually.

If you are visiting the family at their home, rather than a restaurant, you will most likely need to take your shoes off. Remember to wear good socks, and good ones that don't have holes in them! You will be given a set of "house shoes" to wear. Many people believe that if your feet aren't covered you will get sick.

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There will be more food than you can eat. While you will be strongly encouraged to eat (吃吧吃吧!), you can decline, but you'll need to do so up to three times. It's standard for an offer and refusal to be repeated three times until it's taken seriously.

No matter what unique customs the family has, follow your friend's lead and express your gratitude. Compliment the family and their home by saying how big it is, how pretty, or how convenient it is to get there. Even more important, compliment the family on raising such a good son or daughter (your friend). And of course, thank them for inviting you. When it's time to go, remember to say goodbye to each person individually.


This article is part of our new online Chinese course. An efficient way to learn Chinese language for working and living in China.