A country credited for the invention of noodles (IGGCAS report from 2005), dating back to 4000 years; also ice – cream, which is said to have been first created for an emperor in 200 B.C.; and to know how their cuisine has been adopted and adapted by countries over the years, speaks of its diversity and relevance in today’s times.
Food forms a major aspect of Chinese social life and almost every other social interaction is deemed incomplete without food. The Chinese make very good hosts and it is rather common for your Chinese business counterparts to organize a lunch or dinner during your business trip. As you may know, Asian cuisine differs from the West in many ways, and so, it is essential to know the basic dining & business etiquettes to avoid getting the unwanted attention.
Here are some tips that will come in handy for you :-
- If it’s a business dinner, then it must be treated as one, and your attire should reflect the occasion. Take cues from your host, so you do not stand out in the crowd.
- It is advised that you carry business cards here too. English to Chinese translation of your business card is important. Exchanging of cards must be done with both hands, and if done otherwise, it would be looked upon as disrespectful.
- The highest ranking officials (host and the visiting country representative) would be seated at either end of the table. The guest of honour is usually seated facing the door. There could be other forms of seating arrangements as well. It is suggested that you let the host show you, your seat.
- Gift giving at dinners isn’t mandatory but would be considered courteous. Rice wine, cigarettes are common on the list.
- Unlike in the West, where a single toast is made at the beginning; in some South-East Asian countries, including China, people toast multiple times. Although the host will make the first toast, as a guest, you must be prepared to make one too. Generally, it could be about prosperity, cooperation, and other such ideas which would cultivate a good bond. You may end with saying Ganbei (cheers). It is not necessary to empty your glass after every toast, however, it is the usual trend.A sign of respect would be to clink your glass lower than the rim of your host’s glass.
- Unless you are familiar with Chinese food, do not order for yourself, as sometimes the name may not convey what exactly the dish would be. Food preferences, if any, should be shared earlier, to avoid misunderstandings or embarrassing situations.
- Food is eaten with chopsticks. The Chinese food items are such that you may eat bite-sized pieces, for which, chopsticks come in handy. While eating rice, hold the bowl near your mouth, so that the food doesn’t fall out. Do not stick the chopsticks in your rice bowl. This resembles the incense sticks burned during funerals. Do not dig into your food with the chopsticks, it is considered impolite. Place them on the chopstick rest and not on your plate while having a conversation. If your chopstick using skills cannot be made public, you may ask for a spoon or a fork, however, it would be impressive to use them and blend in with your colleagues. Below is a video tutorial to help you learn how to use chopsticks :-
- It is okay to slurp or belch while eating and is symbolic of enjoying your meal.
- It is a practice to never refill your own glass, but let your neighbour do it for you. It should be reciprocated likewise.
- Talking about business during a meal isn’t quite the norm unless your host initiates it.
- The host (one who invites) pays the bill. If you wish to pay, it should be made clear before the meal.
- The guest generally leaves before the host.
These small tips will help you score some brownie points from your Chinese colleagues. Today, there are a number of Chinese companies in India, which would give you ample opportunity to collaborate with them. To know more, a reliable source of information would be the India China Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ICCCI).