10 Etiquette Tips for Visiting Shanghai

Gu tian Bridge, Shanghai
Gu tian Bridge, Shanghai | © hongsaya Limpakhom / Alamy Stock Photo
Jenna Farmer

From proper etiquette for toasts, tipping and toilets to avoiding mortal offence with your gift-giving and chopstick placement, Culture Trip explains how to be the model of perfect manners on your next trip to Shanghai.

Choose gifts wisely

If you’re thinking of buying a gift for a local, there are a few things to avoid. While flowers are usually a safe bet, white and yellow ones, which are often used at funerals, are a no-no. Steer clear of clocks and watches, too, particularly for the elderly, as such items imply that your days are numbered. Finally, while umbrellas might be useful for the city’s not infrequent downpours, the Chinese word for umbrella (sǎn) is very similar to the word for breaking up (sàn), so brollies have negative connotations.

Flower shop at Jiangyin Road, Shanghai

Never leave an empty plate

Be careful when placing your chopsticks

Sticking your chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice may bring to mind certain funeral rituals for those around you – not a good idea. Also, be careful of tapping your bowl with them; this is seen as impolite. Instead, when eating out in Shanghai, place your chopsticks just to the right of the rice bowl before you eat and across the middle vertically after you finish.

Using chopsticks to eat noodles with egg

Let your host pay for dinner

When chowing down with locals, you might want to split the bill. If dining as a guest, however, don’t even think about it – offering to do so will be seen as insulting to your host’s finances.

Embrace the lack of privacy

If there’s one thing that Chinese people are comfortable with, it’s the lack of privacy. Traditional squat toilets are often barely concealed by panelling, allowing users to chat away as they respond to the call of nature. Queuing is a non-existent concept here, too, so don’t be too surprised if locals don’t appear to acknowledge personal space, or shove past you to get on the Shanghai metro.

Always join in with a toast

Even if you’re not drinking, joining in with the many toasts (gan bei) of a meal is mandatory. The clink of your glass is important here, too: aim the lip of your glass to clink the bottom of theirs, as a nod to their superiority and status.

Friends toast during an outdoor lunch, Shanghai

Expect to talk money

Money can often dominate Chinese conversation, so don’t let it phase you if you’re asked about your earnings. The country’s economic revival has driven many to embrace an attitude that equates success with wealth.

Bring an open mind to the dinner table

You’re likely to be served hot water when eating out, even if the weather is sweltering; the Chinese believe hot water to be very beneficial for your health. When dining in traditional restaurants, expect to order plenty of dishes for the table. And they’ll arrive when they’re ready, rather than adhering to a Western-style course system. Finally, unless you specifically request otherwise, rice is usually served last of all.

Steamed dumplings in steamer baskets

Keep the change

Overall, tipping is not part of Chinese culture and could even be perceived as rudeness. That said, tipping has started to become common in the more Westernised Shanghai hotels and restaurants. Unsure what to do? Follow the example of your fellow diners and guests.

Don’t be offended by staring and pointing

For many of the older generation in particular, foreigners are still a noteworthy sight – don’t mistake staring and pointing for rudeness. Locals can sometimes be eager for the chance to practise their English, too, so you may be approached for a chat – or even a selfie.

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Culture Trip Spring Sale

Save up to $1,100 on our unique small-group trips! Limited spots.

X
Edit article