Lesson 2, Topic 4
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Cultural insights

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Saying Thank You in China

In this lesson, we learnt how to say “thank you” in Chinese – but how should you express your thanks in China? China is a country which places significant value on politeness and respect, yet at the same time being overly polite can be seen as too formal or distant with close relatives or friends.

Whereas in some western cultures, we have the habit of saying “thank you” almost as a filler word or expected response in many situations, in China it tends to be more specifically used when someone has done you a favour or praised you.

With friends or family vs colleagues

With close friends and family, it is common to be a bit more relaxed in your interactions. In China, this often means reducing the number of times you say “thank you” – particularly for more minor favours such as handing you an item or opening a door. In this way, you indicate that you view your friends as helping you equally and no longer need to be so formal.

In contrast, with more senior family members or colleagues, it is important to always show respect and thank them for their assistance. 

In a restaurant

There are almost infinite opportunities to thank people when you are enjoying a meal at a restaurant – from being handed the menu to having your food served.

To avoid continual thank you’s, it is common in China (particularly southern China) to tap twice on the table with your index and middle fingers to express your gratitude to a waiter for pouring drinks, without having to interrupt your conversation. 

When thanking waiters at the end of your meal, it is more common to express your gratitude by praising the meal or their excellent service, rather than repeating the phrase “thank you”. 

Formal occasions

During more formal occasions, or when you want to express your most sincere thanks, Chinese people may use the “fist and palm bow”. This involves holding one hand in a fist and covering it with the other, holding them close to your chest while lightly bowing your head. 

This gesture is common during celebratory or congratulatory situations, for example receiving an award or during the traditional Chinese wedding ceremony. You can find out more about this and other Chinese greeting etiquette rules in our Chinese culture article!