China: 60 second business etiquette tip

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Things can really get ‘lost in translation’ when doing business overseas. One when I was a trade union official visiting a factory in Shenzhen, China many years ago I asked the factory manager:

“Do you have workers compensation in China?”. The factory manager looked puzzled and discussed it with his translator who replied: “No if the workers break anything, they don’t have to pay us compensation.”

But it goes beyond language. Often it’s just cultural nuance too. Even after work, at official banquets (which are much loved by the Chinese) you have to be careful of cultural nuances. The seating arrangements are very formal with the most senior person – a CEO of Party leader or Premier – are seated immediately opposite their equivalent. The senior leaders – the host and leader of the guest delegation – make speeches complementing each other’s country, state and/or company and others don’t speak until invited to by the senior leader.

And then there is the food and drink. The Chinese have a custom of having the leader fill their cup with alcohol  and say “Gan bei” (“Cheers” or “bottoms up”) and they will invite the guest to skoal their drink. Typically the senior leader will go around the room inviting people to Gan bei.

In fact I was once in Jinan, the capital of Shandong province where premium South Australian produce was served along with fantastic Penfolds wine. Peter Gago, who is the Penfolds Chief wine maker put on a dazzling and educative show and each guest were educated in a range of the wine leading up to the Grange!

Unfortunately by the time we got to the Grange tasting, the Gun bei campaign was up and running so I had to delicately explain to my hosts that Grange was to be savoured not skulled. After tasting it they got the message and left the Gun bei activity to the local beer Tsing Tao, which happens to be made with South Australian Barley!

More to read:

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