7 things that make Chinese culture unique: A guide for host families

As AFS Host Families and Exchange Students around the world can tell you, understanding is the first step to friendship.

When you welcome a Chinese teenager into your home, you'll probably want to gain some insight into their native culture. So to help you get to know your exchange student, we've compiled a list of 7 everyday practices that are common in China...and maybe aren't as common here in the U.S.

While these are cultural generalizations (meaning that they don't apply to everyone from China), they're a great jumping off point to help you relate to your exchange student!

1. Drinking hot water

In the U.S., we usually enjoy a drink of ice cold water along with our meal. But in China it's actually common, or even preferred, to sip a cup of hot or warm water.

2. Putting family first

Americans tend to focus on themselves and value their individual feelings and accomplishments. The Chinese, on the other hand, are more likely to emphasize the community. This means that they very much value the opinions of their family members and coworkers, and think about how their actions will affect others.

Family time with exchange students.

3. Being polite (really, really polite)

When Americans address an issue, we're usually direct and say (for the most part) what we mean, even if we disagree with someone. In China this can be considered rude, so people tend to focus more on being polite and maintaining harmony.

4. Wearing slippers indoors

A lot of families in the U.S. wear their shoes inside the house or else walk around barefoot. Chinese people, however, traditionally take off their shoes when they enter a home and change into slippers instead. (This helps keep the floor especially neat and tidy!)

5. Sharing food

In American restaurants, each person gets their own menu and orders their own meal. In China, it's common to get only one menu per group or table. One person—usually the one who is paying for the meal—orders several family-style plates for the entire table to share.

6. Respecting elders

American culture tends to value youthfulness and place a lot of emphasis on teenagers and young adults. Chinese culture is more focused on respect and hierarchy, so young people generally look up to their elders (instead of pop stars) as a source of wisdom and advice.

Exchange students with the Chinese flag.

7. Being modest and humble

In the U.S., it's common to talk about our own achievements without being considered arrogant—we tend to think confidence can be good for our sense of self-worth. In China, however, humility is emphasized more than pride, so people tend to be very modest and downplay their own successes.

Of course, as anyone with international experience knows, people from diverse backgrounds are generally more alike than they are different. As you get to know your Chinese exchange student, you'll likely find that what separates you is much less important than what brings you together.

New to AFS? If you'd like to help build bridges of understanding by becoming a host family for a Chinese student, please fill out our hosting interest form:

Learn More