Cultural Differences in Daily Social Interactions


This unit revolves around various cultural differences in daily social interactions across cultures, such as: offering an invitation, and the acceptance or decline of that invitation; entertaining guests; presenting and receiving gifts; offering and accepting compliments.

Main Ideas

1. Different Invitation Expectations

Expectations about when spouses should be included in invitations differ between China and the West.

In the West, both the husband and wife will usually be included in social invitations for dinner in the evening. While in China, it's quite common for only the husband or wife to be invited to a meal with colleagues or friends.

There are business related social functions that will only include one's colleagues and/or clients, and not spouses, even to an evening function such as a dinner in the West.

2. Differences in Declining an Invitation

Most people in the West don't like to give detailed explanations why they're declining an invitation. Their explanations are usually short and simple, such as " Im sorry, I cant get away " or Im tied up the whole week or I'm already busy that night."

While in China, people will give a more detailed explanation to make sure that the person doing the inviting will understand that there is something important that must be done, or a prior engagement has already been made.

The purpose is to give the other person face, to reassure him or her of the speaker's esteem for the inviter. Thus, the Chinese detailed explanation sounds unnecessary to the Westerner, and the Westerner's short, un-detailed explanation sounds impolite to the Chinese, since both are unaware of each other's customs.

What's more, sometimes to be polite, the Westerner will even pretend to want to come and promise to try to come by saying " Ҿ I'll try my best to come ). However, a misunderstanding will occur in the intercultural communication. To a Westerner, the saying " try my best" means the person may or may not come, but will sincerely try, but to the Chinese it doesn't sound sincere, but hypocritical.

3. Different Traditions for Meals

In the West, generally there's only one main course plus two other side dishes, a salad and vegetable, followed by a dessert, rather than many dishes. Food proportions are usually prepared and served so each guest has a comfortable amount to eat, without having a large quantity remaining.

Before planning meals, the hosts may ask guests about any special food requirements to avoid serving a dish that can't be eaten by someone who is a vegetarian or has a diet restriction for health reasons.

The alternative that will sometimes occur is a hostess who prepares an entree with two or three choices so all guests' needs will be accommodated. An example would be an Italian pasta dinner with one dish containing meat, and another without meat. The guests then can choose between the two, or take some of each.

4. Different Dining Out Habits

Dining Out in the West

In America and England, when dining out with friends, it's quite common for friends to share the cost of the meal equally among them, to go Dutch, or split the bill, which implies equality between friends. They seldom fight over paying the bill, or grabbing the bill, refusing to let the others contribute. To a Chinese person this may seem to suggest that they're too poor to pay their own meal. But this behavior is not at all indicative of a person's financial status and ability to pay for the meal. On other occasions, however, Westerners will treat a friend to a meal and hen, as in China, there is usually the expectation that the guest will return the favor by inviting the host to a meal later.

When meeting at a pub for drinks, a popular pastime in England, each person in the group will take turns buying a round, asking everyone what they would like and then going to the bar to get the drinks. Those who dont buy a round when it's their turn are frowned upon. This same tradition also occurs in bars in America.

Dining Out in China

In China when dining out with friends, the one who invites everyone should pay for the meal. Or if no one person specifically invited the others, at the end of the meal, everyone will fight over paying the bill, because only paying for oneself might be regarded as mean, miserly or selfish.

5. Differences in Presenting Gifts

In America, when an adult is invited to a dinner party, it's regarded as being polite to bring a small, relatively inexpensive gift for the hostess, such as a box of candy, chocolate or a bottle of wine. Two bottles of wine are not necessary, since it might suggest the hostess didn't prepare with enough wine to serve her guests.

Unless asked, it's not customary to bring food. If you're invited to a potluck dinner, however, a dish of food large enough to feed the whole group is appropriate. The hostess will usually tell the guests what type of dish to bring.

Never bring a friend, a relative, or children to a party, especially a dinner party, unless they have been invited to attend with you.

Flowers are frequently delivered or brought in person to family and friends who are sick, whether at home or in the hospital .

In China, when you are invited to a meal, people usually bring fruits and flowers, or two bottles of wine, but never bring just one bottle because even numbers are favored by Chinese people and considered good luck, while singular numbers, especially one, might be thought as stingy. So never bring any gifts containing singular numbers as they are not favored.

Sometimes people will bring flowers or fruits to those who are sick either at home or in the hospital.

6. Differences in Accepting Gifts

In the West, opening a beautifully wrapped gift in front of the giver and expressing appreciation is considered polite. What's more, giving a surprise is appreciated, so guessing what's inside can frequently become part of the process of receiving and opening a gift.

Whereas, the situation differs in China. Normally the gift is put aside and opened later, after the visitors have left. The main reason for doing this is to show that the host is welcoming the guests for themselves, not for the gifts. Therefore, opening a gift in front of a visitor would be regarded as impolite and greedy, and the visitor would think the host is only interested in the gift. In addition, many gifts used to be presented without being wrapped, but now, due to the Western influence, more and more gifts are beautifully wrapped. Also, the people usually tell the receiver what's inside when offering the gift, which is also part of the reason the gift isn't immediately unwrapped, but set aside.

7. Differences in Accepting Offers

In the West, people get used to accepting the offer directly, "no" means no, "yes" means yes. While in China, "no " doesn't simply mean no.

Chinese people are brought up to initially decline the offer to show politeness and courtesy, since they don't want to create a problem for a busy host or hostess. Nevertheless, even after declining, the guest is still expecting the offer, so obviously this refusal isn't real, but a way of being polite. So the host will keep offering, and ignore the polite declining. This tradition of the host's continuing to offer and the guest's continuing to decline, asking the host not to bother, is a habit that shows courtesy and politeness in the eyes of the Chinese.

8.Differences in Accepting Compliments

In the West, especially America, most people appreciate compliments and respond by saying "Thank you" or "Thanks".

However, in China when receiving a compliment, a typical Chinese reaction is to show modesty and humility by saying: na li ,na li (I am not so good) , or cha de yuan (far from good) . Such attitudes towards any praise or compliments are considered appropriate and regarded as virtues.

Also, when a purchase is made, Chinese people will often ask or voluntarily tell the item's price in order to share the happiness of shopping. But most Westerners feel it very inappropriate to talk about the price of products they've purchased. That information is considered private, so questions about prices shouldn't be asked.

Words and Expressions

1. Financial expressions

'Foot the bill' - To pay the full amount of money when the bill is presented.

- His parents will foot the bill for his course fees.
- They refused to foot the cost of the wedding.
- The company footed the bill for her expenses.

Go Dutch: to pay only one's portion of the bill when it's presented. Used when eating in a restaurant.

- Let's go dutch on this.

Split the bill: evenly dividing the bill among all those in the group. If couples are dining together, and the men will be paying, the bill will be divided by the number of couples.

- Let's split the bill. or Let's just split it.

2. Invitations

Formal invitations are always written, and responding to them is also done in writing. R.S.V.P. (Words taken from the French "Rpondez s'il vous plait" which means "please reply") is always on these invitations, requesting the invited guest to respond and advise if they will attend or decline the invitation.

A formal invitation is sent for any type of formal affair, including a formal dinner, charity ball, formal wedding, business or social formal celebration.

Informal invitations can either be written or verbal. Informal invitations are used to invite guests to less than formal events. They usually include occasions celebrated by family and friends, and more casual business events.

Response to a written informal invitation may be in writing, or it may be verbal depending on the circumstance and the R.s.v.p. request. Sometimes an R.S.V.P. will give a telephone number to call for responding. And there may be an "R.S.V.P. regrets only", which means you only respond if you are not going to be attending.

A verbal invitation, which is always an informal invitation, is responded to verbally. Many times this may occur in the same conversation if the invited guest knows immediately whether or not he or she will be attending. If the person being invited needs to determine if she or he will available to attend, a verbal response will follow.

Common phrases used for an informal verbal invitation:

Can you come over and join us?

Id very much like you to come to our dinner party.

Shall we have a drink at this restaurant?

Well be glad to have you attend our meeting.

Were having a dance on Sunday. I hope you make it.

Were having a party this weekend. Will you join us?

Come and see me next Friday.

I'm meeting my wife after work. Join us.

Why dont you come to the lake with us?

You must join us for lunch.

How about having a drink with me this afternoon?

Do join me for a coffee.

Perhaps youd care to come to a party on Saturday.

We'd be delighted if you could spend an evening with us.

We'd be so pleased if you could come.

Would you honour us with a visit?

Betty and I are throwing a dinner party this weekend, wed like you to come.

We were wondering if you and Mary would like to come to have dinner with us.

If you could manage, wed like you to attend our speech contest on Thursday morning.

Common phrases used for accepting a verbal invitation

Yes, I will come. Thank you.

I'd very much like to attend. Thank you.

Id like nothing better.

Id like to. It would be very nice to attend your party.

Ill be a little late, is that ok?

Thank you. Id love to!

That sounds like a very nice idea.

Id love to join you for lunch.

Yes, I'll come. I'm looking forward to it.

Ok. / Lovely. / Rather!

Id love to!

Well, good for you! Yes, I'll come.

What a delightful idea. Thank you.

Thats really very kind of you .

Wed be delighted to accept your invitation.

It would give us great pleasure to spend Christmas with you.

Common phrases used for declining a verbal invitation

No, I dont think I can.

Sorry I cant. But thanks anyway.

No, I won't be able to.

Thats very kind of you to ask, but unfortunately I already have a commitment then, so I wont be able to come your friend.

Much as I'd like to, Im afraid I wont be free next Sunday.

What a pity, Im afraid I already have something planned.

3. Compliments

Common phrases used for verbally paying someone a compliment:

You did a great job on that report.

I must say, the soup you made is really very good.

You look terrific today.

You picked the perfect shirt to match your trousers.

You've done a wonderful job decorating your apartment.

What well mannered children you have.

Your hairstyle is very attractive.

That's a great hat!.

You have good taste.

You really look sharp today.

You look really wonderful in that white skirt.

You are so beautiful!

Mm! You look great.

You're very smart.

May I say how charming you look.

I really admire your competence.

I think you deserve the highest praise.

If I may say so, the crispy fried duck is delicious.

I admire your generosity.

Now that was absolutely super!

Common phrases used for verbally responding to a compliment

Thank you.

Im very glad you like it / think so.

Its very nice of you to say so.

Thank you very much for saying so.

Thats very kind of you.

Oh, I'm flattered.

Oh, thanks.

How very kind of you to say so.

That's very kind of you, but truthfully I think the credit should go to Mr. Smith. - all rights reserved