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Chinese Drinking Habits

Chinese Drinking Game

Chinese Drinking Game

Gan Bei (干杯)is a Chinese toast literally translated as “Bottoms up!”. For those who have spent some time in China this expression is familiar because of the alcohol drinking importance in local social intercourses. It even gave birth to a Chinglish word “ganbeiing” which means “drinking lots of alcohol in company”.
No business can be finalized in China without sitting around the table and drinking, drinking, drinking… This controversial habit is rooted so deeply that even latest tragic events when officials died during banquets would hardly change anything about it in a foreseeable future.

However, my blog is not about business or politics – it is about Chinese girls, and I want to let you know the unwritten laws that apply to parties “decorated” with the presence of Chinese girls.

I guess it’s not unique to China that during banquets people want to join the festive mood of a party without getting completely drunk. But it is not easy to keep the right pace (especially if you are a foreign guy and everybody wants to “ganbei” with you).

Thus, it is important to know some rituals and their implications to men and women.

First of all, those who are late to the party have to drink extra beers as a “punishment”. For men apologies are vain. It’s better to show the sincere regret and drink 3 glasses of beer without redundant explanations.
But if girl is late and guy says something like – “Hey, beautiful*, you are so late, we are waiting for you until flowers fade away. Please drink 3 glasses of beer now.”
It would invite a girl to grasp the opportunity and answer – “Oh, if you say I am beautiful – should I be punished for spending some time to prepare myself for the party? Are you so impatient, uh?”
Moreover, the guy’s girlfriend (or wife) might show solidarity and confirm that men must wait for their women without complaining and even punish him for incautious comments to drink instead of the girl who came late.

* - in some cities – like in my native Chongqing – people address every girl 美女 “mei nϋ” (“beautiful”). Therefore it is not uncommon to hear the greeting 你好,美女 “Ni hao, mei nϋ” even from complete strangers in the street. On the other hand, maybe it is the kind of self-fulfilling prophecy and can partly explain why there are so many beautiful girls in Chongqing!

From the previous example you can see that appropriate and timely response is important to achieve the goal of making others to drink (while preserving yourself the privilege to do so at own convenience).

Drinking baijiu

Drinking baijiu

Here are some of toasts serving the same idea and mostly exploited by girls.
If girl wants a guy to drink the whole glass of beer, she can use the following phrase (rhyming in Chinese):
感情深,一口焖(”gan qing shen, yi kou men”)”If our relationship is good, drink it all” followed by 感情浅,添一添(”gan qing qian, tian yi tian”)”If not, you can just sip a bit”. Of course, the guy will empty his glass.
Now it’s girl’s turn to make the move and she continues the game saying:
喝一半,感情不断(”he yi ban, gan qing bu duan”)”I drink half, so that our relationship goes on”. And accordingly she drinks just half of the glass!

Generally speaking, when toasted in China men are always supposed to drink **.

Women, on the other hand, have a privilege to miss a round (or even ask someone to drink instead of her). But don’t be deceived by slender looks of Chinese girls. You might be surprised to reveal that some of them can make a tough competition to guys in drinking alcohol.

** – As a side remark, refusing to drink too often will make a man look hypocritical, and in China it could lose so needed social relationships (“guanxi”) with far-going consequences.

Talking about drinking competitions I have to mention the popular Chinese drinking games. There are many ways to entertain the drinkers and the culture of such games in China has a rich history which can be traced to Tang dynasty.
Today they usually revolve around some kind of riddles, counting, card games and in each round the loser has to drink.
If you want to play such game with a girl – you can choose a “Little Bee” game.
Below is the quote from an article about drinking games that gives a good explanation of its rules:

It is a game for two. First, the players sing a little verse: “Liangzhi xiao mifeng ya, fei dao huacong zhong ya, fei ya” (two little bees fly to the flowers, and fly). After singing, each player imitates either a rock, paper or scissors with his/her hand. The winner (the one who shows a sign that beats the other player’s sign’) must pretend to slap the other player, while saying “Pya Pya.” The loser must pretend to be slapped while saying “Ah Ah.” If both people show the same sign, they pretend to kiss, while saying “Mua Mua.” Of course, this has to be done as quickly as possible. The first to say the wrong sentence or does the wrong action must take a drink.

Repetition is the mother of learning. Watch this video to see the game in action.

Before you rush out for some crazy party or KTV I have to explain the last thing – what “whole-sale” 打批发(“da pi fa” ) toasting is.
There are two main ways in which people toast: either toasting people who sit next to you and with whom you have a conversation or making a “whole-sale” toast accompanied by a little speech which addresses all participants of the party. In the latter case everybody has to drink. That’s why “whole-sale” toasts are not supposed to be made too often. In fact, if you are not sure – it’s better to refrain from doing it at all. Again, there is some exception for girls and their “whole-sale” toasting will be tolerated more readily.

Now you are ready to drink in Chinese parties. Gan bei!

Not a complete stranger to drinking, Crystal Tao

  • nathalie

    Yes, very funny games…But do u know why u need a game to drink? I mean maybe there is a culturel explanation?
    And, its very seldom to see chinese girls who drink! In any case, at university! Don’t u think?

  • http://www.lovelovechina.com Crystal

    Drinking games is a custom with very ancient traditions. In China drinking alcohol is always associated with fun and leisure.
    Maybe in mediterranean countries with a rich history of winery it is different, and people are used to drink alcohol during meals and treat it as a very common and everyday activity.

    As for Chinese girls drinking alcohol I never felt that they lag far behind American girls, for example.

  • benjamin

    As a nondrinker living in China, I’ve accepted that my attitudes towards alcohol could end up costing me potential social connections, and may very well already have. I don’t particularly worry about it, but I do wonder from time to time if my refusal to drink in the company of the locals ever offends them. I’ve been told before that many social customs are not expected to be observed by foreigners in the same manner they are by other Chinese, but I don’t know of any other non-drinkers in China, and I don’t know if I’m committing a big social faux pas here.

  • http://www.lovelovechina.com Crystal

    Hi, Benjamin

    You are right – being a total non-drinker is a drawback in China.
    A good analogy can be a person who has very special diet requirements, which he/she follows for health reasons. Such people often find themselves in awkward situations during different social intercourses.

    But friends will understand it. My suggestion would be to find some very good reason, and refuse drinking completely(!) instead of agreeing to drink “just a little bit”.

    However, if you are trying to make some sort of business – then you might need to bring a friend/assistant who would be able to take the drinking duty on himself.

  • TLB

    uh-oh, I’m a “little bit” drinker, and I’m about to meet the fiancee’s family and friends this summer. Should I just say I don’t drink at all? (fiancee knows I do drink a little) “A little” in this case means one beer, maybe two if spread over an evening, or one glass of wine (maybe two); I hate baijiu. Can I get away with drinking whatever very slowly so it lasts a long time?

    Tim

    p.s. these are Dongbei folks, and I hear there’s a lot of drinking going on up there! :|

  • http://www.lovelovechina.com Crystal

    Dongbei! Poor TLB… They drink baijiu like water :lol: I don’t believe that you will go away without drinking.

    I can just give few tips, but not sure if they help:
    1) ask your fiancee in advance to tell her family that “laowai” don’t drink baijiu; I believe they will anyway urge you to try it – sip and make a suffering face
    2) if you are excused to drink just beer, maybe it would be helpful to drink from bottle and not glass – so that guests have less reasons to insist on “bottoms up”
    3) eat something fatty before dinner (even maybe drink a little bit oil), so that it covers walls of your stomach and inhibits the absorption of alcohol into blood

    Hope you will survive ;-)

  • Bill

    I first went to China in early 1997, and married my sweetheart in Beijing the following year.

    At the wedding, I was on perhaps my 7-8 toast of baijiu as we made the rounds to all the tables. Si Gu (#4 Aunt on my wife’s father’s side), bless her heart, came to my rescue. With all the talking and commotion going on, she very discreetly replaced my filled baijiu glass with water.

    I was just in China a week ago and saw her and thanked her. She remembered.

    I don’t mind drinking drinking baijiu, and I can drink a lot if I’m eating food. My trips to China always require a detox upon returning to the States, where I generally have a beer now and again.

    Very nice site, Crystal. You have uncommonly good sense!

    -Bill

  • Jan

    Hi,

    This entry was a lot of fun to read. Because drinking in my Nordic culture is quite important as well. Seems like its something similar with the Chinese.

    Now to my question:
    How good can the Chinese ladies and guys keep their alcohol?

    As in if I went there. I have a feeling that I could easily be somewhat sober still after the Chinese start passing out. And by all means I’m not an alcoholic. And of course it is different for every person. But we are kind of taught into this by the Nordic culture, being able to take alot of alcohol before it starts to effect, and effecting slower than to most people.

    But if you had to guess?

    Trying to prepare for the trip I will have next year, to know a bit what to expect. And would it be considered “bad” or “rude” if one didn’t get drunk or not so drunk if others were wasted?

    • http://www.lovelovechina.com Crystal

      From your mail address I guess that you are from Finland – motherland of the famous “Finlandia” vodka ;-)
      Well, I am sure that you can out-drink most of Chinese :lol:
      I don’t think that it would be a problem if you are the last one to get drunk. However, be ready that everyone will want to “ganbei” with you and your dosage might be considerably bigger than of other participants.

      • Jan

        After my great trip to China… Because I am a laowai, I was made to drink so much more than others. It was “mei wen ti” for me. It was really much fun as well.

        What I was surprised about was the beer, that is rather mild, ~2.5%. When at Finland our beer is ~4.9%. But it was all good. At Finland its almost impossible to drink and not become drunk. But at China it was not a problem hehe. I could take care and watch out for them. Which I was happy to do.

  • Anon

    Many Chinese and Japanese (not so much other Asians) are said to be missing or have a mutated Enzyme which doesn’t break down alcohol properly giving lower tolerance but also immediate “hang over” side effects and red skin. :oops:

    • http://www.lovelovechina.com Crystal

      Thanks for pointing this out.
      I found it on Wikipedia – it’s called “Asian flush“.

  • Nick

    I have found that, at least in my case, an honest answer worked well. I had several people in my family with SERIOUS substance abuse problems, including at least one for whom it was the direct cause of his death. (Liver failure due to severe alcoholism.) I simply explained to my Chinese hosts that there were some people in my family who had problems with drinking and, out of respect for them, I did not want to risk it, so I simply do not drink at all.

    They were quite gracious about it and they always will arrange for tea or a diet coke for me when they’re drinking the hard stuff. It helps me that my little angel does not really drink, either.

  • http://www.magnoliaarts.com TLB

    Nice story Nick, how could they not respond well to such a touching reason for your not drinking?

    On first meeting last July, my new Liaoning family threw a party for me, but there was just beer and wine, no baijiu (whew!). The beer and wine flowed freely, but slowly, and no one got intoxicated (lots of food too!).

    I’m wondering if all the talk about so much drinking is really limited to certain demographics: age groups, maybe income? My family is pretty well educated, and what I’d probably call upper middle class: good jobs, own their own city apartment, have a car, and all the folks at the party were middle aged or older (the young’uns live elsewhere and couldn’t come).

    Or did I just get lucky? :grin:

    • Nick

      You just are quite fortunate, TLB.

      I know you will, but just be sure to treat her like a lady, or as I call my angel: 我的心中的女皇。

      Crystal, thank you again for this wonderful blog. What I have learned from lurking here has done wonders for my relationship with my angel.

  • paul k

    i am a recoved alcoholic of 20 years !!!

    my chinese friends here know i do not drink and to my surprize most of them other than to sample canadian beer for curiosity do not much either !!!

    although some of the chinese a couple of guys do a lot !!! hehehe

    my friends warned me before i went to china to marry my future wife that it would be expected of me to drink !!!

    i told them i will not even if it makes me look bad in the chinese eyes !!!!

    they said as long as i was aware of the possible problems !!!

    so i went but found my wife and daughter and my future mother in law rarely drink !!!
    either does my wifes sister or her aunts !!!

    actuly my wife had one small glass of wine at our wedding supper and that was it !!!

    my father-in-law did drink and so did the men the ones who drank the most was my brother-in-law !!!

    he drank a lot the women of my wifes family were very happy i did not drink actually i found that because of my brother-in-laws constant drinking i became the families number one son-in-law !!!

    the one aunt where we stayed in her home for the wedding for 4 days told me in sort of sign language a broken english he drinks to much and you do not good for you you are a good man!!!

    even the men were all told by my wife and daughter i did not drink or smoke !!!!

    because of my bad lungs all my wifes relatives were told to not offer me liquor or do not smoke in any rooms i am in !!!

    you know a lot of chinese mostly men smoke but not one of them complained and they all waited until things were over or went outside if they needed to light up !!!

    i have not one bad experience with any of my relatives they were all great !!! very accomodating for sure !! they are fine people !!!

    i do feel bad that i think my brother-in-law has a drinking problem though when i bought harbin beer as a gift for my new father-in-law they would sort of hide it and not offer him one !!!!

    as a woman my wifes sister i could tell was a very good wife and mother but you could see the hurt in her eyes and from experience the trials of living with an alcoholic husband !!!

    i do not know but i do not think there is much for AA or Alanon in china !!!!

    my family in china never made me feel bad for not drinking i did all my toasts with at our wedding and all the family suppers with only pop i found they have sprite in china which i drank mostly there!!

    so my experience in china was very good indeed and my wife was very happy i do not drink i would guess after seeing her sisters husband and their life with alcohol !!!