Observations - Etiquette
| Drinking Beer
The etiquette for both beer and rice
wine is pretty simple, and very important. It is very
easy to give offence by appearing to be ignorant. But
first you need to order the beer...
Chinese beer normally comes in 640ml bottles, and each
one will fill about 3 standard Chinese glasses. The
strength is usually around 4%
Notes on Ordering Beer
1. All Chinese tend to order food as soon as they arrive
at a restaurant, and staff also expect this. This applies
to any place that sells beer and food, except a corner
2. Westerners tend to order drinks first, and then think
about ordering food. This is a very big cultural difference
3. Please note that Chinese can easily spend 20 minutes
selecting food, and even longer where you have to go
and choose live items
4. I have made it a policy to only order beer initially.
After this arrives we can then begin ordering the food.
5. If you order the beer and proceed to order food as
well, then you still have to wait until the food order
is completed before they go and get the beers - often
forgetting this entirely!
6. When you arrive at a restaurant, the very first question
they ask you is - How many people at your table. Holding
up the correct number of fingers is fine, until you
learn the lingo
7. In clubs and Karaoke places, you order small beers
by the bucket; 12, 24 etc
1. Cantonese for beer is 'Bai Zhou', roughly pronounced
'bay d'jow' with a very slight 'd' inflection
2. Mandarin for beer is 'Pea Jew', pronounced as written
3. Migrant waiters may call it 'Be Jew'
4. Place the order by saying:
Cantonese: 'Yut zhee bay d'jow mmm goy'
Mandarin: 'Ee ger pea jew che-che nee''
Yut or Ee means one off. Change this for more bottles.
We normally order 3 bottles each time, and often there
is an offer on for each three you buy
5. The bottles arrive and may not be opened before the
waitress leaves. Say 'hoi d'jow' to get the bottles
Drinking Etiquette - Basic
You are the Host in this example:
1. If the glasses are not washed with hot tea, and you
do not ask the waitress to do this, then swill a bit
of tea around in each glass before using + a bit more
on the drinking rim. There is a (Plastic) bowl for this
to go into
2. Fill the most honoured guests glass first, and down
through the pecking order if you know it? Fill your
own glass last of all
3. Before drinking, offer a very simple toast and hold
your glass up for show. Cheers is fine
4. When you want a drink, and it is not convenient to
offer a more formal toast, just tap your glass on the
central rotator (Lazy Susan) once only - or any appropriate
piece of ceramic, especially one with a loud 'Ching'
5. Never, ever take a drink without doing one
of the above - it is extremely ignorant and offensive!
6. When it is time to refill glasses (They are usually
quite small), always fill your guests glasses first,
and your own last.
7. Keep track of how full the bottles are, and order
fresh ahead of time as necessary
8. The only exception is when there is one glassful
left in a bottle. Order new 'Cold' bottles, and leave
the warm and yuckie stuff for yourself.
9. Between friends and in most normal situations; order
the new beers and be ready to grab the remaining bottle
and pour into your own glass. Everybody knows this beer
is now warm and flat. They also know that by pouring
this old beer for yourself, you are honouring them with
cold and fresh beer.
10. In this case, do not take a sip until all glasses
You are not the host here:
Basically as above except:
1. When your glass is topped up, tap your fingers on
the table. In Canton tap your index finger up to four
times on the table. This is saying 'Thank you' without
using words and saves breaking the flow of conversation.
It literally means 'One more please'.
2. Forgetting to do this is mildly offensive, depending
upon present company and how long you have been in China
3. If you know China well, forgetting to do this is
4. Even when engaged in the deepest conversation, or
on the telephone, not tapping gives offence.
5. You are being judged by your awareness of everything
going on at table at all times.
6. Not tapping because you are busy, means you
are flagrantly ignoring the other people present. This
gives great offence!
6. Exceptions: Waiters and waitresses, and between very,
very, very good drinking buddies. That's all!
3 Things to Remember:
1. Fill other's glasses before your own
2. Toast or tap the Lazy Susan
3. Tap your fingers when being served
1. Most Chinese will drink a bottle or two of rice wine
2. Follow the same etiquette as with beer above in general,
3. Always toast
3. Always drain rice wine in one go
4. Normal rice wine can be treated just like beer
5. If the bottle says 'Mou Tai', then this is excellent
and very expensive. The very cheapest bottles are over
$70 USD each!
6. Otherwise a table rice wine costs around $15 USD
7. Hold your glass up afterwards to show it is empty
= make a show as the others are doing
8. Rice wine is normally either 33% or 52%. Know which
version you are drinking by inspecting the bottle -
the different alcohol figures may be the only difference
on the label!
9. This drink is unusual, in that it seems to hit your
body quicker than Western equivalents, but you also
sober up far sooner than normal
Drinking Etiquette - Formal
As above, plus extra rules come in. I will not list
them all, because some you do not need to know, other
than they exist; and others simply because I do not
know them yet!
1. Here beer and rice wine may both be served. If so,
treat the rice wine as a formal toasting drink
2. Rice wine may well be the only drink, in which case
use as beer above
3. In these situations, it is likely you will be the
Guest of Honour. You will probably not be the most important
person at the table!
4. On some occasions you may not even be aware who the
most important person is, unless you realise what is
happening around you?
5. Everyone defers to The Most Important Person
6. He will always finish his drink first - even in a
7. When not finishing a glass, everyone else's glasses
will be more full (Also in pecking order)
8. You will normally not be expected to know this, so
drink near to the same as the person with the emptiest
glass and never more
9. If you finish a glass during a formal toast when
nobody else does, then this is very bad! The Important
person + everybody else will therefore have to finish
their own glasses - and you have shown complete disrespect!
10 Very Important People during Formal Meals, may on
occasions choose someone to drink for them. This is
very unusual, and done after the initial toast. If this
happens, then you may also choose to do likewise at
the same time. Doing this later is very bad!
11. Part glasses are measured in fingers or half a glasses.
Half is said in Cantonese as 'Boon' - ie 'yut boon boon'
= One half and one other half', or 'mmm sup mmm sup'
= 50-50. If you speak Mandarin, then you will know these
Drinking Games - Chinese Tricks
Chinese love drinking alcohol, and are normally not
very good at it by Western standards. Beware the exceptions!
1. It is normal for you to be sat at table, and with
company; when someone will come over with a bottle and
top up your glass. This is introduction to drinking
2. You both drain your (Full) glasses
3. Later you should return the compliment in like manner
4. Of course, this inevitably leads to many people becoming
embroiled in multi-table 'Toasting'!
5. Especially if you are alone, Chinese will start to
suffer sooner, and then start toasting you '1-on-1'
in rotation. You get the plan I am sure?
6. Counter this by toasting back soonest, selecting
7. This is always meant in good fun, and can lead to
long friendships or drinking acquaintances
8. Don't be stupid. Maybe 1 in every 100, 000 has other
intentions. If you feel 'odd', then know you have been
drugged. The Landlord will keep you safe from harm,
as will your real friends - so call someone immediately!
9. This is usually done with cigarettes by the way,
10. This will never happen if you are in company
Drinking Games - Social
We are talking clubs and Karaoke here, but sometimes
when entertaining at home or at a local favourite place.
It goes like this:
1. You need to learn 'Chinese Dice', which is a drinking
game. There are versions, but the main one is detailed
2. You each have a shaker and 5 dice
3. You do round-robin betting on the highest number
of dice for everyone, which show a certain number
4. If there are 3 people, then start at 4 of a number;
so let's say 4 x 4's. Next bet can be either 4 x 5's
or 5 x 1's, or higher number.
5. Anyone can call at any time, and you can call more
than one person
6. The looser drinks, normally 1/3rd a glass of beer
x number of people called
7. Number 1 is special in that it can be any number
8. You can also call only 1's, or no 1's (Some extra
rules here, versions)
9. You can change rotation = normally the opposite direction
to Western cards
10. You can bet back to the person who bet you
11. You can select a victim
12. These are the brief rules. Call me if you want to
Chinese One-Handed Counting
As these places are usually excessively noisy, you need
to learn how to bet using one hand only. Counting up
to ten using one hand is quite easy, and higher than
ten just involves an additional number in the right
Betting is - So many of this number
It goes like this; and palm is always inwards unless
1 = Index finger sideways
2 = Index and middle finger sideways
3 = Index, middle and third finger sideways
4 = Index, middle, third and pinkey sideways
5 = all fingers up, as in a high-5. This may also be
chopped into a birds beak. Palm outwards!
6 = Thumb and pinkey extended horizontally, other fingers
closed, palm inwards
7 = Thumb horizontal, index down, rest of fingers closed
8a = Thumb and index to side of nose, go down and outwards
8b = As 7 above, but rotate more than 90 degrees, so
thumb is passed midday
9 = Make a fist, then raise your index finger slightly
10 = Make a fist
More than 10 = number + ten, as one single movement
To play the game, make only two numbers with your one
Note. Number 10 has the chinese character of a + so
sometimes people may use this instead - to help you?
1. Chinese 'Party Girls' are very good at this game
in 1-on-1 situations, and you will need to be very,
very good to beat them
2. Boys are very good with a large number of people,
and any number of participants over 3 usually
3. If you are getting hammered - stop for a while. That
I typed a lot here, but hope it actually gives you an
insight into Chinese people and sharing beer with them
- a most excellent pastime!
Pages: Etiquette; Tea,
information is as supplied by the Chinese Embassy in
UK, as dated 20th June 2008, and/or other reliable sources.
This particular page also contains my personal, unbiased,
and apolitical observations. Please check this information
yourself as it may alter without notice, and whilst
we try our best to ensure it is correct, please do not
hold us responsible for any errors - this is intended
as a simple guide only
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