Last Minute Tips for Chinese New Year Success
With the Chinese New Year at our doorstep there’s no better time to talk about how to rock your next visit to a Chinese household.
Going to pay a Chinese friend a visit over Chinese Spring Festival 春节chūnjié is referred to as 拜年bàinián and if you are living in or visiting China during this time it’s something you should totally take part in!
Set up an appointment. Set up a time that is suitable for the host. Chances are your host will have family and friends visiting during the entire week so it’s important to go over when appropriate. Visiting friends over Chinese New Year is tradition so don’t worry about being too formal. Try something like the following:
Hey are you free today? I’d like to pay you a New Year‘s visit.
Nǐhǎo, nǐmen jīntiān yǒu kōng ma? Wǒ xiǎng qù nǐmen jiā bàinián.
Don’t have any Chinese New Year plans? It’s not too late, send that wechat message or make that call because having no plans over Chinese New Year is lame! (Trust me I know)
Don’t Show Up Empty Handed: Giving Gifts During the New Year
Of course with gifts it’s the thought that counts but there are a few helpful pointers.
Generally, Chinese don’t give gifts in odd numbers. A dear friend of mine recently told me a story about the first time he went to his girlfriend’s house:
“I was very excited to meet her family, so I brought the best bottle of alcohol from my family’s distillery. It took my uncle 10 years to make! Still, when I left their house the girl’s mother said to her, ‘How could your boyfriend only give one bottle of alcohol!’.”
Unfortunately that relationship didn’t last long, so be sure to give gifts in even numbers! If your budget is tight it is better to give two cheaper bottles of báijiǔ （白酒）than one expensive one. The same would go for boxes of tea and packs of cigarettes. When giving non-consumables this rule seems less strict; i.e. If you give someone a scarf I don’t think they’re going to expect a second one. If you’re giving a child a hóngbāo (红包) I would recommend giving 200 RMB or above（100 is the bare minimum). Kids in tier 1 cities are accustomed to getting 1000 RMB or more. Luckily if you’re a foreigner there’s little to no expectation for you to give hóngbāo so giving a little less shouldn’t be a problem. Side note: right now people still get a kick out of the new gold colored RMB so it would be a nice touch to stuff those red envelopes with the gold plated stuff! Otherwise toys and books are good gifts for children as well.
While there are several gifts that are considered taboo they’re all quite easy to avoid. These gifts include: clocks, scissors, shoes, handkerchiefs and umbrellas. Seriously, would you even think of giving any of these gifts to anyone? If someone brought a clock or scissors to my party they definitely aren’t getting another invite! On the other hand, while I stated earlier that gifts should be given in even numbers, the number 4 has to be avoided because the Chinese pronunciation of 4 四 sì sounds like 死 sǐ which means death. Owing to the fact that the Chinese language has so many homophones many of these items are prohibited as gifts because they have a negative homophone. i.e. “to give a clock” 送钟 sòngzhōng has the exact same pronunciation as 送终sòngzhōng which means “to bury a parent” (or another senior member of the family). Find an entire list of taboo items here.
You’ve finally Made it to the House
Upon arrival you will be expected to take off your shoes and will probably be offered sandals. If you’re like me then the sandals will be too small which will force you to waddle around like a duck, but don’t worry, you don’t have to wear them for too long and you can slide them off once seated.
Introductions: Be sure to greet everyone in the room whether you know them or not. If you haven’t learned how to introduce yourself or greet someone in Chinese you can do so here. While your Chinese friend may speak awesome English, the older generations at the gathering may prefer to speak Chinese with you. Knowing just a little bit can go a long way!
Dinner: It’s finally time to eat. Wait for the others to sit first this way you’ll have a better idea of where you should sit. Once food has been served you’ll want to wait for the elderly at the table to start eating first. Don’t put too much food into your bowl at once. While eating, pick up the bowl and bring it to your mouth to avoid dropping food (your thumb should be on the top rim while your other fingers are holding the bottom of the bowl). Lastly, when drinking alcohol drop your glass slightly lower than the glass of your host just before the glasses “clink” together; this is a sign of respect. Find an in depth guide to Chinese etiquette here.