Editor’s Note: This translated article gives readers an crash course on the intricate rules of Chinese drinking culture, particularly rules associated with toasting others. Not to be seen too lightly, toasting is a tradition that can make or break the “guanxi” (connections) that play a key role in professional and personal success here in China.
We Chinese have a custom: when companies or friends eat together, men like to toast each other around the dinner table. Here, we’ll give you an inside look into China’s dinner table drinking culture, how to make a toast, and how to politely refuse other people’s invitations to make toasts and drink.
Drinking Culture at the Dinner Table
Eat vegetable dishes when you drink beer, but try not to eat too much. When drinking baijiu (hard Chinese liquor) it’s best to eat meat dishes and don’t hesitate to eat a bit more meat than usual. Don’t eat anything that’s too “stimulating” when you’re drinking. You should stay away from Chinese prickly ash (and any foods made with this hot, numbing spice), anything spicy, and don’t touch onion and ginger dishes. If you can’t resist the temptation and happen to chow down on the above foods, the alcohol you’re drinking will go straight to your head. If you haven’t built up a good level of tolerance, following these rules will help you to, well, tolerate more alcohol than usual. To build up your tolerance, drink enough to make you puke. After you puke, your tolerance will be a little better than it was before. If you’re always overcautious with your drinking, your tolerance will never improve.
How to Make Toasts
If you’re not much of a drinker, don’t even bother taking the first sip, especially in Northern China, as here it is considered disrespectful and rude if you take one sip but decline sips thereafter. In Northern China’s drinking culture, people perceive such an act as insincere and may even ignite anger. If you have some confidence in your drinking ability, follow the rules and do it the right way.
Rule 1) Raise your glass with both hands, grasping it with your right hand and using your left hand to support the bottom. Remember your glass should always be lower than other people’s glasses. If you’re a leader or supervisor of some sort, don’t hold your glass too low, otherwise your subordinates won’t know what to do with theirs.
Rule 2) Take your time. You don’t want to be drunk five minutes after you get there.
Rule 3) Wait for your turn. Don’t make a toast until the leaders have all finished.
Rule 4) Several people can make a toast to one person, but one person isn’t allowed to toast several people unless he’s a leader.
Rule 5) When you toast someone else, if you don’t knock glasses the amount you drink depends on the person you toasted; for example on the other person’s tolerance and attitude towards drinking. You can never drink less than the person you toasted. You proposed it after all!
Rule 6) When you toast someone else, if you knock glasses you should finish your glass but let others drink as much as they want. You’ll instantly come off as generous and considerate.
Rule 7) If you have a relatively low position, remember to top off leaders’ and supervisors’ drinks. Don’t assume they need you to “stand in” for them to drink. If a leader really wants someone to take his place and drink, you should pretend you really want to drink and that you’re not just doing it for him. For example, if the leader can’t really handle his liquor, you can drop a hint to the guy about to toast him instead of jumping up to drink for him.
Rule 8) If the person you're toasting is a close friend, it's best to finish your drink. If you don't know him that well, just take a sip. This is an unspoken rule that you should follow but not actually talk about at the table.
Rule 9) If there aren’t any special people present, you should take turns toasting everyone. Try not to toast one person too much or leave people out.
Rule 10) When toasting someone and knocking glasses, you have to say something. Otherwise why would anyone want to drink with you?
Rule 11) Don’t talk about business at the table. After everyone’s got a good buzz going, the business should pretty much take care of itself. You should all have a mutual understanding; otherwise these people wouldn’t have come to drink with you.
Rule 12) If you say or do something wrong, don't make excuses or try to explain yourself. Just "punish" yourself by drinking a little more and your drinking partners should forgive you.
Rule 13) If, and I’m stressing if, you get into a situation where there’s not enough alcohol, put the liquor bottle in the middle of the table and let everyone help themselves. Don’t pour drinks for each person one after another. Otherwise, what are you gonna do when there’s nothing left for the people at the end?
Rule 14) At the end, there has to be a toast for everyone to empty their cups. Make sure your cup’s not already empty.
Rule 15) Never say, “I’m not much of a drinker,” (if you’re going to drink) because people will call you a hypocrite. Believe it or not, most people can tell if someone can’t really hold their liquor.
Rule 16) Peanuts are a wonderful thing for those of us out drinking. To stay level-headed, you need to take care of yourself after you’ve had a few drinks. Grab a little yogurt, a little hot water and a hot towel, and you’ll be all set.
Rule 17) If a leader drinks with you, he’s giving you face. No matter how much the leader wants you to drink, you better empty your cup. Remember: hold your cup with two hands. Keep the cup low.
Rule 18) Make sure you don’t say anything stupid while you’ve got a little liquor in your system. You have to learn how to sober up once you’ve gotten drunk. Don’t brag, don’t go crazy, don’t vomit all over everything, don’t throw your chopsticks all over the place, don’t point everywhere, don’t blow on your soup like an idiot, don’t fart and don’t belch. If you really just can’t control yourself, then go to the bathroom. Nobody’s holding you back.
How to Politely Refuse a Toast
The first trick in your toolbox is to order a few non-alcoholic beverages and tell everyone why you’re not drinking tonight. A second way is to ask other people not to pour too much into your cup, and then gently push away the bottle. According to custom, it’s ok not to drink what’s in your cup. Trick number three is to lightly tap the rim of your glass with your finger when someone tries to pour you a drink. This just means, “I’m not drinking, but thanks.” When the host or other friends throw their hearts into a toast for you, don’t try to run away, and definitely don’t turn your cup upside down or pour out the drink someone just gave you on the floor.
Don’t refuse to let someone pour you a drink; it’s rude not to drink when someone toasts you, especially if it’s your supervisor or a customer. Even if you really can’t drink hard liquor, you can at least bring the cup up to your lips in a symbolic gesture. You don’t have to drink what’s in your cup, but if your glass is empty when the host proposes a toast, it just makes the host look bad.
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Keywords: how to drink alcohol China drinking culture tips tips for drinking alcohol China Chinese drinking tips Chinese drinking culture
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This is all good in theory. However, if you have actually attended any of these dinners you will see that generally these rules go out the window after a couple of drinks. Usually it's the Chinese who can't hold their booze and get extremely messy and loud. Toasting everyone becomes the norm and it ends up turning into a drinking competition.
Certain rules mentioned here are true to an extent, however I can tell you from my own experience, once people start getting drunk it's a free for all.
May 15, 2011 21:32 Report Abuse
Fxxks sake! Are you serious? There's only one way to learn a drinking culture in a different culture, and that's from going out and drinking with the Chinese!!! My god. Really? How far wrong can you go with an empty cup of baijiu? Do they pay you to write this shit? I hope so....
May 17, 2011 10:55 Report Abuse
"anything stupid while you’ve got a little liquor in your system. You have to learn how to sober up once you’ve gotten drunk. Don’t brag, don’t go crazy, don’t vomit all over everything, don’t throw your chopsticks all over the place, don’t point everywhere, don’t blow on your soup like an idiot, don’t fart and don’t belch",,,,in other words don't do anything that normal Chinese people do on a daily basis or what the others around the table are doing right in front of you. You are expected to be a good little "laowai" while making a fool of themselves is reserved for the Chinese....ridiculous!!
May 17, 2011 20:08 Report Abuse
The article has been translated from a Chinese source, as it says at the top of the article, so I guess it was originally intended for a Chinese audience rather than singling out 'laowais'.
Now if they could first adhere to those rules when sober, that would be a step in the right direction....
May 17, 2011 22:13 Report Abuse
Even in a social context some of these rules are good as your Chinese friends will think you are very learned and will respect you even more.
Quite often if you insist on holding the glass lower or use two hands to raise it the reaction is usually one of stunned amazement and whispers of "oh so clever". Even if it's all fake it's good at face value
May 19, 2011 01:59 Report Abuse
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