Have you eaten?

My impression of China is that the single most important thing to them culturally is “face” and “guanxi”.** However, a close second seems to be the importance of food. Eating together is much more important in Chinese culture than in any Western culture. While friends or co-workers in the West might go grab some drinks, if you are really friends with someone in China you’ll eat with them (alternating who pays of course)! Nearly every day someone in my office will bring in an armload of candy or cakes and just put it out on one of the tables.

Community meal in China

It’s easy to see what sort of things are important to a culture by looking at the language. They say that Eskimos have dozens of different words to describe ‘snow’. What to a layman is paint; to an artist is an acrylic, pastel, oil painting or watercolor. In fact, to see how important food is to the Chinese, we can simply look at their greetings. The first question any Chinese person would ask another in the morning is, “Ni chi le ma?” You might think this translates to “How are you?” or “Did you sleep well?” or “How is the weather?”. You would be mistaken. The common greeting in China is, “Have you eaten?”

So if you ever find yourself lost in China, make sure you bring along some snacks to help make friends…

**I love this funny little antidote on “face” from OfficiallyForeign.com

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