Personal relationships are important in any business context, but to build successful relationships in China it is crucial to start by understanding cultural differences. This is especially true in social situations like business lunches and dinners.
Doing business with China: Business dinner etiquette
Ting Zhang, founder and CEO of Crayfish.io offers some advice to those visiting China:
Always accept hospitality when it is offered, she says: “Chinese people are used to having big meals at both lunch and dinner – so it is not wise to insist on having sandwiches for lunch, or worse still, to suggest skipping lunch altogether.
“Banqueting is popular and formal, with your host preparing a seating plan, often in a VIP room. Dress code depends on who you are meeting – if it is with VIPs, then you are expected to dress smartly, but if you are with people you already know, you can be more relaxed.
“Your host will order everything for the whole table. Ask what it is before eating it if you are unsure and if you are served something you don’t like, just leave it.
What if I am a vegetarian?
“If you are a vegetarian or cannot eat certain types of food, you must inform your host ahead of time. Vegetarian food is unusual in China, but if you give notice, nice dishes can be prepared with a bit of creativity from the chef on the day. Otherwise, you may end up with only one vegetable dish in front of you!”
Three facts to to help you understand the Chinese culture
1 – Toasts (Gan Bei – ‘bottoms up’)
A toast is made by the host at the outset and then people take turns to make toasts throughout a meal, she adds: “That said, it’s important to watch what you drink. Maotai is typically the favoured choice but it is strong, so be wary of drinking too much of it."
2 – Chopsticks (Kuai Zi)
"These are often the only utensils available – but it is perfectly acceptable to eat with your hands. And there are other aspects of table manners to note. For example, it is bad practice to turn over a fish, so you should never do this. It’s wise to leave a bit of food on your plate to indicate that you are full up.”
3 - Finally, she says, don’t be offended if people spit out bones or burp at the table, because this is acceptable in Chinese culture. She advises visitors to steer clear of controversial political topics in conversation and to offer to pay for at least one meal if you are with the same hosts for a few days.
Crayfish.io assists people in business who want to get to grips with cultural differences, or who need to plan a trip and organise a schedule in China. It matches talented Chinese speaking professionals with Western businesses who need help in dealing with their Chinese partners and audiences, providing a source of qualified people to undertake projects and offer information, knowledge and cultural insight.
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