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ART & LEISURE: When in Rome, do as the Romans do (PART 2)
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When in Rome, do as the Romans do (PART 2)

By Nadia N.

BT 201612 Art leisure 03 wenjun coverWhen establishing business relations with your Chinese associates, you may need to understand and tolerate many cultural differences. With a growing number of enterprises and corporations and consequently wealthy and influential businessman, Chinese associates may be less eager to sign up for something foreign if it doesn't fit their interests 100 percent. The special ways of handing out business cards, introducing yourself and your project and holding a casual conversation are important milestones on a way to success in China. However, one aspect of business etiquette in this modern-ancient civilization requires some special attention and it pertains to drinking and dining.

At the round table

BT 201612 Art leisure 01 600 353740762It is hard to imagine Chinese people talking business without a nice meal and a bottle(s) of BaiJiu (Chinese wine or Chinese vodka of 50-60%). Dinners are taken very seriously, especially in North and West of China - there are no shortcuts. Most of the time, alcohol is mandatory for both lunch and dinner and you are more than expected to drink a lot. In fact it is very important for Chinese hosts to see that their guest are enjoying, therefore refusing this "airline fuel" is pure insult! Though if you are not adept at drinking spirits, reasons like health condition or medication can help you avoid this at the tasting phase.

Another part of the programme – food - can be just as challenging as trying to stay sane after several rounds of BaiJiu. The reason is simple: most Chinese business dinners include 15-20 dishes and if you don't control yourself in the beginning, you risk feeling like a goose prepared to become fois gras. Also, finishing a dish is considered quite ill-mannered and as a sign of offering not enough of food - all the wonderful (or bizarre) dishes are there mostly for sampling. Therefore, if you are offered a black duck egg, insect (southern Chinese dishes), stinky tofu or delicious intestines, make sure your face doesn't give you away and try it.

It is worth mentioning that after dinner it is not acceptable to fight for the bill. If you are invited to join Chinese for dinner, KTV or to a bar for a night-out, everything is being taken care of and you are expected to pay only if you initiated the activity. All in all, remember that hosts are trying to take good care of you and introduce you to their culture (that they are truly proud of) - there is no place for being "picky".


19300001337475132253749924830This certainly deserves special attention because so many foreign people are just not prepared for it. In China, BaiJiu is not only a national drink but a "detector device" for insincere colleagues as well as a measure tool for "manliness". So if you are a man, brace your energies! Unfortunately, women also get no compassion while attempting to work or make business in China - females, as business partners, are expected to drink just as much as their male associates. It might sound bizarre but in terms of drinking, Chinese culture is merciless. Nevertheless, men are definitely less lucky, as drinking contests are sadly still quite common and, needless to say, the Chinese are better in this.
Just to make the situation worse, in some areas, using the restroom during 4 -5 hour dinner can be taken as "cheating" - put your hands on the table, take a shot of Baijiu and talk business! In terms of toasting, Chinese people also have some specialities that Westerners surely haven't heard of: toasting people individually is a very common way of expressing respect. If a Chinese associate or investor raises his glass (shot) to drink with you and you only, that's a good sign - you are very appreciated and valued.

Manners matter

BT 201612 Art leisure 02 1065245 79106935sxc hu handshakeBehavioural patterns, gestures and facial expressions are not to be undervalued. If you come from a Western country, you should know how casual and open dinner conversations can become. With more casual topics come more relaxed body posture, hand movements, laughter etc. In China, regardless of amount of Baijiu taken, one should be able to exercise self-control. Firstly, and most importantly, body contact is considered to be exceptionally rude, especially man to woman, even if it is a light touch on a shoulder or continuous handshake. Also, it is a good idea to avoid pointing with your index finger, biting nails and expressing any discomfort with your body. Chinese people, when doing business and participating in social events, are quite buttoned-down, so it would be inappropriate to seem too relaxed.

While attending dinner with Chinese colleagues, it is easy to get the idea that all of participants are quite happy and satisfied with their lives. This is due to impropriety of sharing personal concerns in any way. Therefore, if you had a bad day or exhausting night, it shouldn't be easily read from your face. It also goes for situations when everyone starts slurping and belching - do not widen your eyes and keep calm. Finally, body posture is quite important for Chinese as it demonstrates your self-control and ability to organise yourself. Try to copy your host's posture and gestures as it is vital to seem respectful yet not arrogant.


Choosing an outfit for dinner with Chinese investors or colleagues can say a lot about your intentions and overall personality. In contrast with Western culture, Chinese don't expect you to be too formal. For Chinese, it is enough to look neat and tidy while suits and bright-colored dresses for women can be considered inadequate. It is worth mentioning that women wearing skin-tight dresses or, God forbid, scoop necklines can give very wrong impression, which is essential when meeting Chinese people for the first time. In addition, it is an absolute pleasure for your Asian colleagues to mention if you are wearing traditional jade or wooden bracelet or piece of jewelry – showing interest in Chinese culture is enough to prepossess them.

So the story of your accessory can be a great topic for conversation that will be supported by everyone at the table.

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