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Chinese Drinking Rules

In China, getting drunk is very easy – but not always simple

The all important Chinese word for “cheers” is “Ganbei” (干杯). You will no doubt hear this word a million times during your time in China (that is if you choose to spend some of your stay “under the influence”) however there are some handy tips to learn first. It is essential at the start that you are clear on what the people you are drinking with mean by ganbei.

The expression means literally “to dry the glass” though not everyone takes this literally and will often mean for you to take just a modest mouthful of whatever beverage you are consuming. Be warned, many Chinese will watch your reaction to the first ganbei of the evening to decide how they are going to drink. If you down your drink on the first one then expect a boozy night to follow as they will probably expect you to do the same each time.

Drinking in China – Some Rules for Ganbei-ing.

1. Rule number one has to be – don’t be tricked into drinking more than you feel comfortable with. A Chinese friend may try to drink a lot more than he is able to consume so as not to lose face in front of you. Usually (and I put emphasis on this word) they will watch you closely to begin with to determine the pace you want to set.

2. There are two main types of alcohol consumed at meals in China – Baijiu 白酒 (strong spirits often made from rice) and Pijiu 啤酒 (beer). Baijiu can be anything from 38% to 60%+ proof so it is advisable to stick to beer unless you are a strong drinker. If someone toasts you with baijiu it is very impolite for you to then drink with beer, likewise it would be strange for you to drink baijiu if someone toasts you with beer.

3. If your drinking partner who moves to clink glasses with you is superior to you in some way (be it age or position in a company etc.), it is deemed polite for you to clink his/her glass with the rim of yours below theirs.

4. Another important though often overlooked form of drinking etiquette is for you to maintain eye contact with the person you are toasting while you are drinking – though this can be slightly awkward at times.

5. After a glass has been drained Chinese people will often extend the empty glass to you so that you can see that they have in fact finished their drink.

6. Beware of people toasting you with tea and expecting you to drink alcohol – despite what many Chinese who try to convince you otherwise might say, there is no rule saying that you have to toast with anything other than what your “opponent” is drinking – except if they are very old (65+)

7. Chinese Huaquan (划拳) is a rather complicate drinking game – try to find a patient Chinese friend to take you through the rules. The term however is now used as a sort of umbrella word for all drinking games.

8. If you are seated around a large table with a Lazy Susan in the middle, it is common for you to simply tap the edge of the Lazy Susan with the bottom of your glass when toasted to avoid the difficulty of having to stretch across a wide table to clink glasses.

9. It is essential during a meal that you personally toast the person who is paying and sputter out a few words of appreciation. People will be offended if you don’t do this. The person who is paying will usually be the person who invited you out. However if in doubt, watch closely and wait until the bill is paid, it is quite acceptable for you to then toast that person.

10. If there are old people dining with you, be sure to also toast them each at least once.

Recommended Chinese culture articles:

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Beijing Society: Er Nai, Lucky Numbers, Chinese Etiquette, Drugs in China

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