Want a greater perspective of culture in the Chinese or Asian communities? Read on! This Chinese Etiquette (or Manners) apply generally to any community with the chinese or the 2nd, 3rd, 4th generations of Chinese immigrants.
Respect For Elders
There is also a great respect towards the elders, and that does not mean the elderly, but it means someone who is more senior to you in terms of age.
There is a respectful barrier which still exists in the most traditional Chinese societies. As long as you are younger, you should always greet your elders and people younger than yourself should greet you. You can expect to be greeted by little children and even demand for it sometimes.
Also, when speaking to them, you don’t ask or say inappropriate things to people senior than you. You should never speak to them like your peers because that is considered rude. It is also expected of your good Chinese etiquette to give the best seats to your elder, let them have their turn before yours etc etc. Likewise, you can expect the same treatment from someone younger.
Respect is highly appropriate in the community.
Chinese Etiquette: A Type of Address/Title For Everyone
Not Applicable To Business or Professional Situations
A little child would respectfully address you, as “big sister” if you are fairly young, maybe in your teens to your twenties and possibly unmarried, or “aunt” if you are married or older. If you have grandchildren of your own, the little child may address you as “grand mother”.
This does not occur only if you are related by blood. Your mother’s friend can be your “aunt” as well as your friend’s elderly mother may be your “grandmother”.
These “address-es” are spoken in Mandarin (or a dialect) where they just ‘call’ your title as a sign of respect. It is an acknowledgement of your presence.
It is extremely disrespectful if you call them by name instead. Children do not call their fathers by their first name, “John” but will always use ‘Daddy’ or ‘papa’.
In the more Anglo-Chinese culture (where people there is a strong presence of English and respective influence), people sometimes attach their names to their ‘title’.
You may introduce yourself as “Aunty Sally” to a child or a teenager and they should only address use as that.
You might be middle-aged but you’ll still have to address an elderly lady as “grandmother”. Once a lady reaches a senior and mature age, she’ll prefer to be addressed as “grandmother”.
If you are in a situation where you are not sure how to address, you may ask, it is not rude to do so. Most Chinese manners apply only if you are Chinese, but if you are not your efforts will be seen as a compliment.
Please note that the above situation are for informal situations only. They are not to be used in a business situation.
Red Packets in Chinese Etiquette
Red packets are the literal translation of the Chinese Words (Mandarin).
These are little envelopes which are “money packets”, meaning they are used to put money inside only.
The reason why it is red is because it is to signify good luck, as red in Chinese culture is an auspicious color.
In other cultures, giving of money is considered distasteful, but not in Chinese culture.
It is good manners to give red packets to your loved ones, but usually only if you have married. If you are not, you are not expected to. Though if you are middle age and above and single, you may dish out red packets.
When do you give red packets?
These red packets are usually given at festive or happy events, such as weddings (usually preferred and common over a wedding gift), birthdays(instead of a gift), Chinese New Year. Especially at Chinese New Year where the married will give to children and single family members or friends when they visit each other.
Just think of it as the Chinese people are hard core on being practical.
Red packets are to be given ‘down’ your ‘rank’. That means it is not common that red packets to be given to peers, unless at weddings. So grandparents give their children and grandchildren, and aunts and uncles give their nieces and nephews or children of their friends, so on and so forth.
You should never ask for a red packet. The proper Chinese manners is to be given a red packet. Usually at Chinese New Year, children will take oranges to their elders and receive red packets in return. This signifies a ‘wishing of good luck’ or ‘blessing’.
Chinese Wedding Etiquette: Red Packets At Weddings
At weddings, it is considered good manners to give a red packet of an appropriate amount (if you are not sure, you may ask fellow guests of Chinese culture). This amount varies from country to country, place to place. It is not considered good manners to turn up with a wedding gift at a Chinese wedding.
Though it will not be considered rude, but the preferred gift is the red packet for good luck and practical reasons (as Chinese wedding dinners are often 10 course meals with fancy preparation and can cost 3 times the cost of a non-traditional Chinese wedding).
At the Wedding, there will be a box with a small slit (see picture on the right) at the guest table, where you’ll place your red packet in. Obviously, it is better to write your name and a short congratulatory message at the back of your packet. Though it is not mandatory.
Many uninformed find themselves embarrassed when they find out that they are the only ones at the wedding with a wedding present and no allocated place to put it. I’ve friends till this day, who married more than twenty years ago, speak unhappily about their overseas guests bringing them ‘paintings’ and other items. I’ll just say that they are not aware of other cultures too.
The right manners is to do as they do if you are attending a wedding of their culture. It is rude to impose our manners and culture on them. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
That being said, there are so many Anglo-Chinese cultures and mixed Chinese cultures. It is best to ask the host or a closely related guest, and this will not be considered rude but very kind and considerate of you to find out so.
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