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In every culture there’s a set of rules, or etiquette, that we know we need to follow in business dealings and professional situations.  However, what you might have grown up seeing and knowing might not apply in China where the culture could be vastly different from your own. 

You probably also understand how important first impressions are—they’re crucial for your likeability factor!  Whether or not an HR interviewer likes you can determine you get that second interview, and whether you succeed in not insulting the higher up who interviews you next will determine whether you’re offered a position! Foreign students interning in China or Learning Chinese Language will need to comprehensively understand what it takes to make a good first impression on the first day in the office. while this makes a lasting impact, it also fosters a good relationship all throughout your time in China. In addition to these roles, interns must understand the concept of giving face and some intricate characteristics of Chinese Culture. Whether you are enrolling in the Summer Programs or all year round internships, these resources will help.

But what is it that’s important for Chinese employers? What are faux pas that you must avoid at all costs?

When meeting…

  • Do arrive on time, or at least within a ten minute window. There’s a lot of talk about how Chinese don’t care about punctuality, but actually they do appreciate you arriving early.
  • Don’t bow, or put your hands together because that’s not the Chinese way and makes you seem ignorant of Chinese culture.
  • Do begin greetings with the oldest or most important person in the room.
  • Do offer a brief handshake, but don’t crush anyone’s hands because it’s seen as distastefully aggressive. If shaking the hand of an elder or senior, give a gentler shake and nod slightly.
  • Don’t try to push your own cultural customs on to others by offering a hug or a kiss—when in Rome, do as the Romans.
  • Do lower your gaze slightly upon meeting as a show of respect.


Chinese Business first impressions for Interns -Businesswoman smiling at camera while colleagues discussing

When addressing…

  • Don’t assume the first name given is a “first name”. For example, Xi Jinping would be Mr. Jinping Xi. In Mainland China, the people you meet might only have two characters in their name, such as Chen Hao (Ms. Hao Chen), but almost everyone you meet from Hong Kong or Taiwan will have three (or even four) characters in their names.
  • Do add an honorific and stick to last names only in the beginning. For example, if you’re introduced to a Truman Wang, you should call him “Mr. Wang”, and not Truman. The exception is if someone introduces themselves with a first name only.
  • Don’t butcher anyone’s name. Repeat the name after introduction if you have to.
  • Do mimic honorifics of the host who introduces the person. For example, if someone calls another laoshi (teacher), lao, or da, feel free to copy the calling as it shows that you agree on the honor bestowed on that person.
  • Do call strangers by an honorific, xiansheng (mister) or nvshi (miss, literally “female”).
  • Don’t call strangers, not even wait-staff, as xiaojie (miss) as it has a negative connotation.


Unposed group of creative business people in an open concept office brainstorming their next project.-17.jpeg

When given…

  • Do accept business cards (or anything that’s given to you) with both hands.
  • Don’t instantly put away the business card, or shove it in your pocket haphazardly.
  • Do carefully read the business card, turn it over and check the other side, and if you can think of something nice to say about the card, title, or anything else: compliment the person on the card. For example, you could admire the font, the design, the quality of the paper, or maybe the person has a really awesome title that’s unexpected.
  • Do put away the card very carefully in your card holder, in a pocket, or in your wallet.
  • Don’t accept a gift immediately as it traditionally makes you seem aggressive and greedy. Make sure to reject the gift at least once, if not twice, before accepting graciously with two hands.
  • Don’t open gifts right away. Wait till later, or at least ask if you can do so.


When asked…

  • Don’t ask for anything.
  • Do decline at least once even if it’s just a glass of water. More than likely they will bring it to you regardless of your answer.


Follow our advice and use your common sense to land your job, business deal, or to just make a good first impression at a networking event!


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