Etiquette in Asia

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
In Asia, paying respect to elders is expected among younger people, a gesture such as bowing express the utmost respect. The elaborate and refined Japanese tea ceremony also meant to demonstrate respect through grace and good etiquette.

As expectations regarding good manners differ from person to person and vary according to each situation, no treatise on the rules of etiquette nor any list of faux pas can ever be complete. As the perception of behaviors and actions vary, intercultural competence is essential. However, a lack of knowledge about the customs and expectations of Asian people can make even the best intentioned person seem rude, foolish, or worse.


Special respect is paid to older people in many circumstances. This can include standing when older people enter a room, always greeting older people before others present (even if they are better known to the speaker), standing when speaking to one’s elders and serving older people first at a meal table. Touching the head, shoulders or back of an older person can be considered disrespectful, even if the intent is to comfort or indicate affection. Older people are rarely referred to by first names; they are addressed with such honorifics as Mr. and Mrs. or the appropriate non-English equivalents. Sometimes terms such as "Uncle" or "Auntie" are appropriate for older non-relatives.[citation needed]

For example, the young people (in China) will call an older person as "Ye Ye" (grandfather), and "Nai Nai" (grandmother), "A Yi" (aunt), and "Shu Shu" (uncle) as a sign of respect even if that person is not family by blood.[citation needed]

In India, elders are given priority over younger people in a range of social settings. For example, it is impolite for a young person to be sitting while an elder is standing, in this case, even if there is a free seat, the young person will offer their seat to the elder in concern. Another example would be if an elder is carrying something of considerable weight, and a young person has their hands free, it is expected of the young person to offer assistance to the elder in concern. As with all other Asian cultures, young people in India address any older unrelated person by the closest plausible relation i.e. a slightly older person of the same generation may be referred to as elder brother, or elder sister in the respective language while an elderly person may be referred to as auntie, uncle, grandpa or grandma as appropriate, again in each respective language. As with many other Asian lingual spheres, Indian languages follow strict honorifics that must be abided by.[citation needed]


Everyone should observe good etiquette when using chopsticks.

In the rituals of a Japanese cremation, the relatives pick the bones out of the ashes with chopsticks, and two relatives may then hold the same piece of bone at the same time. This is the only occasion in which it is acceptable for two people to hold the same item at the same time with chopsticks. At all other times, holding anything with chopsticks by two people at the same time, including passing an item from chopsticks to chopsticks, will remind everyone witnessing this of the funeral of a close relative.[citation needed]

Gesturing with chopsticks or using them to skewer food are actions that are seen as rude. Leaving chopsticks standing in a bowl of rice or other food is a faux pas based on the resemblance to sticks of incense in a bowl used to honour the dead ancestors. Etiquette further forbids tapping chopsticks against the side of a bowl, or crossing one’s chopsticks with those of someone else.[citation needed]


Behaviours associated with humility, status and pride are very important in some Asian societies. Etiquette might demand that a great cook or artist deprecate their own achievement as a sign of humility. Situations in some Asian societies allow for displays of wealth or ability that would be uncomfortably ostentatious or in bad taste in Western societies.[citation needed]


Certain customs regarding good and bad luck are important to many Asian people. These customs may be regarded as superstitions by many, but they are often tied to religious traditions and are an important part of certain belief systems, even among the well-educated and affluent sectors of society.[citation needed]

Etiquette by Region[edit]

Specific details which may contradict the aforementioned generalisations are listed in the list here below.


  • Bangladesh is a Muslim-majority nation. Some points of etiquette in the Middle East are also applicable here. As Bangladesh has cultural ties to India, some points of etiquette listed here under that heading are applicable at times as well—such as the prohibition against using the left hand for certain activities.[citation needed]
  • Never give money. It is considered bad form to open gifts in front of the giver.[1]


Greater China[edit]

Further information: Customs and etiquette in Chinese dining

Generally, Chinese Etiquette are pretty much the same with another East Asian country such as Korea and Japan, but there are some exceptions.


Also: Etiquette of Indian dining


Paying respect to elders and obeying teachers are expected among Asian youth, such as shown here in Indonesia. The students quietly listen to their teacher's explanation during their school excursion.

It is important to understand that Indonesia is a vast tropical country of sprawling archipelago with extremely diverse culture. Each of these Indonesian ethnic groups have their own culture, tradition and may speak their own language. Each of them may adhere different religions that have their own rules. These combinations made Indonesia a complex mixture of traditions that may differ from one place to another. Indonesia have a Muslim majority population, and some points of etiquette in the Middle East apply. Following are some key points of Indonesian etiquette:[2]

  • It is important to be considerate of other people's dignity. Shaming or humiliating people in public is considered extremely rude.[3]
  • Always use your right hand, when shaking hands, offering a gift, handing or receiving something, eating, pointing or generally touching another person.[3]


  • It is considered rude to wear shoes inside a house. One would usually take off shoes outside the house and leave them by the door.
  • When shaking the hand of elders (such as parents, grandparents or teachers) the younger person is expected to touch the top of the elder's palm with the tip of their nose or forehead to express respect. It is similar to kissing a hand, but only using the tip of the nose or forehead, not lips. This is generally done by Muslim people as a sign of respect. It is considered rude to not "Salam" a person whether they are visiting you or vice versa.
  • It is considered improper to show affection (such as kissing) ones partner or spouse in public as it is not showing modesty and piety.
  • One usually eats with the right hand.
  • When handing things to people use either your right hand or both hands. Not your left hand.
  • Girls should dress modestly and not wear revealing clothing.
  • Malaysia’s population of Malays, Chinese and Indians all strive to maintain “face” and avoid shame both in public and private situations. Face can be lost by openly criticizing, insulting, doing something that brings shame to a group or individual, showing anger at another person. Face can be saved by remaining calm and courteous, using non-verbal communication to say “no” etc.
  • You call people who are slightly older than you "kak" (to a girl, means older sister) and "abang" (to a boy, means older brother), "adik" to someone younger than you (Both male and female, means younger sibling) or for people much older than you, "makcik" (aunty) or "pakcik" (uncle). It is respectful to call people by those names rather than their given names, even if they are not related to you.


Southeast Asians are very family-oriented and celebrations are a chance to meet extended kinsmen. In Islamic culture, modesty in dress etiquette is important, such as the tudong (hijab).


Japanese customs and etiquette can be especially complex and demanding. The knowledge that non-Japanese who commit faux pas act from inexperience can fail to offset the negative emotional response some Japanese people feel when their expectations in matters of etiquette are not met.

  • Business cards should be given and accepted with both hands. It is expected that the cards will immediately be inspected and admired, then placed on the table in front of the receiver for the duration of the meeting. After the meeting, cards should be stored respectfully and should never be placed in a back pocket. You should not write on a business card. If you want to be taken seriously at a business meeting, you must have business cards. When you get them out, they should be in a card holder - not just taken out of your pocket.[5]
  • It is a faux pas to accept a gift when it is first offered and the giver is expected to offer it multiple times (usually 3 times). Gifts are generally not opened in the giver's presence.[6]
  • In greeting or thanking another person, it may be insulting if the person of lower status does not bow appropriately lower than the other person. However, foreigners are rarely expected to bow. The level and duration of the bow depends on status, age and other factors.[7]
  • Pouring soy sauce onto rice is considered unusual.[7]
  • It is less common to pour one's own drink in a social setting. Generally an individual will offer to pour a companion's drink and the companion, in return, will pour the individual's drink. Although if one of you is drinking from a bottle to glass and the other one is drinking just from a glass, it is fine to pour yourself because otherwise you will be in for a long wait.[7]
  • Blowing one's nose in public is a faux pas. Also, the Japanese do not use their handkerchief for hanakuso, which literally translates as "nose shit".[7]
  • For women, not wearing cosmetics or a brassiere may be seen as unprofessional or expressive of disregard for the situation.[7]
  • Though many Japanese are lenient with foreigners in this regard, it is a faux pas not to use polite language and honorifics when speaking in Japanese with someone having a higher social status. The Japanese honorific "san" can be used when speaking English but is never used when referring to one’s self. Japanese place surnames before given names but often reverse the order for the benefit of Westerners.[7]
  • A smile or laughter from a Japanese person may mean that they are feeling nervous or uncomfortable, and not necessarily happy.
  • "Hai" means "yes" in Japanese, but in a meeting or discussion it is often used to mean "Yes, I have heard you". Don't mistake this for agreement with your point of view.
  • It is very bad manners to be late in Japan. If you have an appointment then aim to be early.
  • It is rude to not send a postcard for Japanese New Year to someone who sent you one. Sending such a postcard to someone who suffered a death in the family during the past year is a faux pas.
  • Tipping is considered rude and is rarely done in Japan except in certain cases, such as tipping your surgeon for an operation, when visiting a high class ryokan, or when dealing with house movers. Consult the locals to be sure what is appropriate. If you can’t be bothered to wait for change, it is okay to tell a taxi driver to keep it.[7]
Like many Asian people, Koreans observe points of etiquette related to local forms of Buddhism. Shown here is the Buddha statue at Seokguram Grotto, a National Treasure of South Korea.


  • The number 4 is considered unlucky, so gifts should not be given in multiples of 4. Giving 7 of an item is considered lucky.[8]
  • Blowing one's nose at the table, even if the food is spicy, is mildly offensive. If necessary, take a trip to the toilet or at least be very discreet.[9]
  • In restaurants and bars, pouring one's own drink is a faux pas. Keep an eye on your neighbors' glasses and fill them if they are empty; they will do the same. To avoid over drinking, simply leave the glass near full. When pouring drinks, hold bottle in right hand, lightly place left hand on forearm near elbow.[7]
  • When someone of a significantly higher social position pours you a drink, it is considered proper to turn away from that person when you drink it.
  • Leaving a gratuity is usually not accepted nor expected.
  • When handing an item to someone, it is considered rude to only use a single hand. Under most circumstances, especially when interacting with a stranger or a superior, one uses the right hand supported by the left hand.
  • Even though mentality evolved, women smoking in public is sometimes not accepted, despite being legally allowed.
  • A couple kissing each other in public is a faux pas, since it is not seen as modest.
  • [1] A guide to Korean funeral etiquette
  • See also Traditional Korean table etiquette.


Hand shake[edit]

In urban Sindh and in other parts of the country, men and women usually lower their head and lift their hand to their forehead to make the "adab" gesture when greeting each other.


Shown here is the gate of Fuerza de Santiago in Manila. The three centuries of Spanish rule left an indelible mark on Filipino customs, art and society.

The centuries of Spanish and American rule, as well as the influence of Japan, China, India, Middle East and the West, have given the Philippines has a unique and particularly formal sense of etiquette concerning social functions, filial piety and public behaviour. Age is an important determinant in social structure and behaviour, dictating the application of honour, precedence, and title.

See also: Table manners#Philippines



  • Thais hold their king in very high regard and any sign of disrespect is a major faux pas. Currency, postage stamps, magazines covers and any other items with the king’s image are never tossed to the ground or treated harshly. Even licking the back of a postage stamp is considered disrespectful. Most especially, these items are never trod upon as it is a sign of utmost disrespect to place one’s foot above the head of the king. Money or other items dropped accidentally should immediately be picked up and reverently brushed.[11]
  • The head is considered sacred in Thailand and should not be touched by hand.[12]
  • The feet is considered symbolically unclean and should not be used to pointed to a person or a thing, and the sole of the feet should not be directly exposed to another person when sitting down on the floor.[13]


  • A small part of Turkey (3%) is in Europe and many points of European etiquette apply. As Turkey has a Muslim majority, points of Etiquette in the Middle East may apply as well.
  • Shoes are often taken off in the foyer (not outside the house unless they are especially dirty). Slippers may be offered. It is a faux pas to refuse slippers unless one’s socks are extremely clean and in good condition.
  • As beliefs regarding bad luck from open umbrellas indoors are taken seriously by some people, close umbrellas before bringing them inside. Some people believe that passing a knife directly to a person is bad luck as well. These beliefs are especially common among the elderly.
  • Hosts typically insist that guests keep eating. One needn’t eat much, but should at least taste a bit of everything on the table and express appreciation for the taste and quality.
  • Food or any small favor in general will generally be offered more than once and it is polite to decline it the first time with an expression implying effort to avoid causing inconvenience.
  • Avoid hand gestures with which one is unfamiliar, such as making a fist with the thumb placed between the middle and index fingers. Many of these are offensive.
  • Any comment to a person about the appearance of the latter's female relatives or wife might be seen as rude.
  • If invited to dinner, one is expected to bring something (usually dessert). Avoid bringing alcohol unless sure that the host partakes. If the guest brings food or drinks (as usual) it is customary to offer it in the proper context during the visit.
  • Friends might greet each other by shaking hands and touching or kissing one or both of the cheeks. This is inappropriate for business.
  • Blowing one's nose at a table is met with disgust and frowned upon even if one has cold. As sniffing is also considered rude at a table, it is best to clear one's nose at a toilet as often as necessary. These activities are in general regarded distasteful, and are best kept away from social interactions.
  • When sitting legs crossed, it is offensive to point one's hanging foot at someone, especially someone older or of higher status. Similarly, it is in general rude to show the bottom of one's shoes or feet.
  • The entire country practices one minute of silence on 10 November at 9:05am. This silence is observed in the memory of the founder of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal.[14]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]