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Useful Note on Chinese Drinking Culture

Rivercrab Dec 30.2013 21:53 Comments (7) + Add your comment
Tags: Expat Rants & Advice Category:My Blogs

As a foreigner living in China its easy to take for granted the understanding of cultural differences that one develops while living here. As such its also quite easy to assume too much sometimes and labour under the misconception that all necessary social phenomena that take place in China have been grasped. Or maybe it's just me.


I recently found myself in a situation where a simple tidbit of information about Chinese drinking custom could have prevented a very enjoyable evening from turning into a into a clusterf*ck of aggression.


To make a longish story short:

drinking with friends in club, drink with random Chinese people, gay Chinese man comes over to our table and comes on to me (male), after declining countless times temper starts to rise (truth be told free vodka redbull pitchers do not make for the most temperate responses to unwanted approaches) as gay Chinese man (lets call him Gavid) continues to try and touch my arm and neck. Finally I shove him away (not ideal but alternatives were not coming to mind at the time)

Gavid leaves. Continue enjoyable evening. Then Gavid comes over, grabs one of the beers on our table makes a show of downing it without clinking glasses with anyone. After three or four tries beer is finished and he goes for another. This struck me as quite confrontational considering we had just made it clear that nobody at our table was interested in whatever he wanted. I react aggrodrunkenly and shove him again, assuming he's come to pick a fight. He is downing our beer after all and not being very friendly about it. 

Then it seemed like the entire club responded; every head turned and most bodies seemed to hone in on the commotion. Before I knew it I was being shuffled out of there by friends and bouncers with a gaggle of local partygoers baying for my blood and coming after me. Bouncers diffuse situation, we leave, pugilism averted.

Found out from some Chinese people the next day that the whole thing with downing our beer was something called 罚酒 or punishment drink. Flabbergasted. This was supposedly Gavid's way of apologising for the first incident, so horribly misinterpreted by my drunken self that it damn near lead to a punch-up. 

I'm not sure if this is common knowledge to other expats but it's a little China lesson I won't be forgetting soon. Here's hoping that people out there can benefit from this silly tale of drunken miscommunication.

It seems to me that with all the racially-polarised booze-fuelled fisticuffs popping up over China these days a little tolerance, understanding and patience could possibly go a long way.

Peace and 元旦快乐

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7 Comments ( Add your comment )


The bloke pinched a couple of your beers...yer should've knocked him out! No. Ok, that would've been wrong. But if that really is part of Chinese drinking culture, it's pretty retarded.

Jan 22, 2014 11:52

I can see a whole new way of funding my drinking nights, now. 罚酒 FTW! Whoopsiedaisy - bottoms up. Oh, I'm terribly sorry: it's 罚酒-time! Do I see you minding your own business at a table full of beers? I foresee a mishap I'll need to apologize for; don't mind if I do!

Jan 22, 2014 16:14

yeah, part of Chinese culture. Actually ,they come over and ask you bottoms up,it's kind of showing kindness and friendship. Sometimes if you refuse , they wouldn't be happy and might think you are not respecting them. Want to know more about Chinese culture,happy to help you.

Jan 23, 2014 10:04

This guy is a barfly. barfly, barfly!

Jan 26, 2014 02:06

Alcohol, misinterpreted signs, different sexual orientation, and culture gap is a recipe for disaster. I know 罚酒, but this does not excuse the gay from drinking YOUR drinks and being unfriendly about it. However, you were annoyed, not in danger, and it was a mistake to start getting physical. Fist fighting is a more extreme reaction in China than it is in the West. Regardless of who was initially at fault, the person who physically escalates the problem is seen as the sole perpetrator. Foreigners have been killed in fights arising from the kind of scenario you describe. In dodgier third or fourth-tier cities, your reaction might elicit a faster, more dangerous response from the locals. They usually won't confront you directly or evenly--when you think everything has died down, they'll be quietly on their phones mustering up reinforcements. Next thing, you're dealing with a flash mob, some carrying knives. Also, there's some hostility towards foreigners at the moment because of a few well-publicized incidents over the past few years. So, there's going to be a certain element who swell with patriotic pride at the chance to rid their bar, and by implication, their country, of the "foreign trash" (as one CCTV anchor put it). Get a grip on your own emotions in the bar and you'll avoid problems.

Jan 26, 2014 11:27

drinking in china of of the life line which cant be avoid .. if you cant drink o smoke, it will be hard life for you because people will often ignore you and may call you boring person there is saying ,while you are in rome, do what rome does in rome.... cheer and enjoy

Jan 28, 2014 09:05

that's true !

Feb 20, 2014 23:54

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