Prior to the first meeting, take the time to translate your business card into Mandarin - your would-be partner will appreciate the effort. Have your name and other business details in Chinese characters on one side of the card, and the English version on the other. You can have a 100-piece stack of cards made in Beijing for about US$5. Without a translated calling card, you would make the same impression as a Chinese executive going to Europe with a Mandarin- only card. It is always a good idea to bring gifts to a first meeting, making sure that these gifts are not too expensive. Items such as pens and organizers with the corporate logo or native crafts are the best. Watches are fine too, but never give a clock as a present as the Chinese word for it sounds like the word for funeral.
Beijing - Social Etiquette
The locals have an expression, "land owner", to denote who is responsible for picking up the tab for business dinners or entertainment. It usually means your Beijing host - the city being his home turf- pays for the meal, whether it is in a hotel, restaurant or bar. The exception to this is when the dinner takes place in the hotel you are billeted at or in the building that houses your office. In those cases, you are the land owner, and will be expected to pay the bill. To be invited to your local host's home for dinner is considered an honor. Arrive early to show your interest in your host and his or her family, and not merely in stuffing your belly. We suggest that you bring a bottle of red wine to present as a token of your appreciation for the invitation. Casual clothes will help lighten the atmosphere. People in Beijing are outgoing, and asking a business counterpart on a date will be welcome. A cafe would be a good venue to start the evening. Once the ice has been broken, you can proceed to a bar or disco.
Social Customs and Courtesies
Expatriates are often forgiven for their lack of knowledge of gestures that can be insulting to Chinese. It is recommended to take a course or pick up a book regarding Chinese customs and courtesy as this topic is quite large onto itself. That said if you have a question regarding a certain situation, ask a Chinese friend and they will usually be very happy to explain.
In Asia, generally speaking, "face" is one of the most important issues. Public displays of anger, trying to prove someone wrong in front of others, or disrespect of one's rank or position can cause loss of face? (often the downfall of many Westerners with our innate directness!) Saving face and allowing people to save face are very important in the Chinese culture. When in an embarrassing situation, the Chinese will generally laugh or try to change the subject to hide the awkwardness.
Do not be surprised if Chinese colleagues or friends ask you very personal questions such as your age, your salary, or how much something cost you to buy, or make frank comments to you regarding your weight, appearance, etc. The questions come from pure curiosity and the comments are generally meant in a light-hearted manner. You should not be offended. However, do not ask the same questions in return as a typical Chinese person would be offended.
During your time in Beijing, you will certainly be invited to banquets, therefore, it is a good idea to know what to expect.
The main difference between Chinese and western eating habits is that the platters of food are placed on the table and everyone shares by selecting morsels directly from the plate with their chopsticks; "family style" often, your Chinese host will use their own chopsticks to put food into your bowl or plate - this is a sign of politeness. The appropriate thing to do is eat it and say it tastes delicious. If you feel uncomfortable about eating what you have been served, you can politely thank your host and leave the food untouched.
Some local customs make foreign visitors uncomfortable: slurping soup, spitting bones on the tablecloth or audibly belching. Most Chinese restaurants now provide side plates for bones but it is still possible to see waiters in Beijing clearing a table by sweeping everything into the middle of a tablecloth, rice bowls, chopsticks, bones and all, in order to make the table vacant as quickly as possible. As for slurping your soup, it is an acceptable way to cool it. And, regarding other mealtime noises, it is considered a sound of culinary appreciation, so go ahead and burp!
At any banquet, expect at least one toast during the meal. Everyone stands up for a moment, raises his or her glass and then empties their glass. A good chance to find out which of your table mates has the strongest constitution!
Another interesting local custom is associated with drinking tea: the "three-finger tap"on the table. This is a sign of appreciation, like saying thank you. The story goes that this gesture was invented by a Qing Dynasty emperor. While touring Canton, the emperor visited a teahouse as an ordinary member of a party of travelers. The emperor took his turn to pouring tea for his companions. Recognizing the emperor, they started bowing in acknowledgement of this astonishing honor. The emperor would have none of it, so he told them to simply tap the table with three fingers-two of which represented their prostrated limbs and the third finger symbolizing their bowed heads. The custom survives in Beijing as a silent token of thanks.
If you are the Guest of Honor
The guest of honor always receives the choicest morsels from the platter. At the end of the meal when the guest of honor feels that everyone has had their fill, he or she will rise from the table. In theory, no one else can rise until the guest of honor does. This often leads to a very lengthy meal. It is not uncommon for the host or hostess to give a timely, discreet hint to the guest of honor that the evening is finished. Be aware that when it is finished, it's finished. Unlike westerners, Chinese do not hang around the table chatting at the end of a meal - they get up and leave. It is not that they have not enjoyed the meal; it is just that this is the way it is done. In a restaurant, the sign that a meal is ending is more obvious. A platter or bowl of fruit is served, fresh towels for wiping your mouth and hands is presented and there is one last pot of tea as a ceremonial farewell greeting.
If a Chinese dinner is at a restaurant, the host will usually sit nearest the kitchen or service door. This is the least favored position, sitting where the waiter stands while serving the food. Some hosts seat their most junior guests or family members in this position so that the host can more easily talk to their guests on either side. All is not lost if you are in one of the junior' seats, just remember that your fellow diners are either more important or older than you, so be honored to be sitting beside them.
Tipping is generally not expected in Beijing. However, at Western-style establishments, a small tip of about 10 renminbi would be greatly appreciated by the person serving your party.
Eating - Do's and Don'ts
Do not stick your chopsticks upright in the rice bowl. Instead, lay them together, uncrossed, on your dish. The reason - when someone dies, the shrine to them contains a bowl of sand or rice with two sticks of incense stuck upright in it. If you stick your chopsticks in the rice bowl, it looks like a death shrine and it is the same as wishing death upon a person at the table.
Do not tap your chopsticks on your bowl. Beggars tap on their bowls, as such, this is not considered polite. When the food is coming too slowly in a restaurant, people have the habit of tapping their bowls to speed up the service.However, do not do this in someone's home; it is insulting.
Dropping your chopsticks brings bad luck. One chopstick is male and the other is female, so dropping one means that you are about to lose your partner. Also, an uneven pair of chopsticks at your table means you are going to miss a boat, plane or train.
Do not cross your chopsticks unless you are at a Dim Sum restaurant. Your waiter will cross them to show that you have settled your bill or you can do the same to show the waiter that you are ready to pay.
Do not eat rice from the serving bowl on the table. It is socially acceptable to fill your small bowl with rice from the serving bowl, bring it close to your mouth and quickly flick the rice into your mouth using your chopsticks. This is difficult for most foreigners, so do the best you can to lift portions of rice from your small bowl into your mouth.
Make sure the spout of the teapot is not facing a guest. It is impolite to set the teapot down where the spout is facing someone. The spout should always be directed to where no one is sitting, usually just outward from the table.
Toothpicks at the table are another standard custom. To deal with lodged fragments of food, cover your mouth with one hand while the toothpick is being used with the other. Toothpicks are frequently used between courses so that the tastes from one course are not allowed to ruin the enjoyment of the next. You may also use toothpicks for picking up those items that defy the best chopstick technique; fruit, whole mushrooms and such.
A word about eating fish...
The fish head is always left for the guest of honor - it is thought to be the most nutritious part. The eyes and lips are considered delicacies and are offered to the senior lady present. The platter holding the fish should be positioned so that its head points toward the guest of honor or senior family member. If you are unwilling to accept the duties involved, delegate the honor to the person on your left or politely turn the platter so that the fish head faces the host or hostess.
Do not try to de-bone a fish when it's top half is eaten by turning it over. It is very bad luck to overturn a fish in order to reach its flesh on the opposite side. Traditional custom says that a fishing boat will capsize if a fish is turned over on a platter. The careful separation of the fish skeleton from the lower half of the flesh is usually done by the host or waiter.
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