If you plan to expand your business to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), you should be well acquainted with its people, culture, etiquette, and patriotism. Here are some tips on business etiquette in China.
people and culture
China is unique in its culture and tradition. Therefore, when traveling, it is important to adapt to the way of life of the country, its people, and to accept all that it has to offer.
- Modesty: Chinese people are extremely shy. There is never any public display of affection here or even being forthcoming. However, it is common to see people of the same sex holding hands. They are not considered a couple, but just good friends.
- Patience: Making decisions that wouldn’t take a long time in other places can take a while in China. People here care about making everyone happy and comfortable with a decision, which requires a lot of patience.
- nominal value: The Chinese never like to “lose face”. In other words, if a Chinese person is humiliated in public, a fight may break out.
- Humor: When it comes to humor, the Chinese are at the top of their game. However, humor related to sex or politics should be avoided.
- Hierarchy: The Chinese are particular about hierarchy and this is especially true in business dealings. Be mindful of the positions your Chinese associates hold, and always remember to show respect if you are ranked lower, in business terms.
While traveling, in many parts of China, especially the underdeveloped areas, be prepared to be “stared at”. When it comes to capturing China on camera, it’s polite to get people’s consent when taking their picture.
Chinese food etiquette can make you feel a little uncomfortable at first, but once you understand their way of doing things, enjoying Chinese cuisine can be a lot of fun.
Take note of the following:
- Lunch and dinner in restaurants can be quite noisy and cigarette smoking is allowed at the table. Over time, you’ll get used to it.
- The knives are absent from the table. You will find chopsticks, soup spoons and bowls. While using chopsticks, it is recommended that you do not point them in the direction of a person, or hold them upright in the bowl of rice. Such a gesture is an indicator of the incense that is burned at funerals.
- Pork, poultry, or fish is prepared so that it is extremely tender and easy to separate from the bones with chopsticks.
- Serving yourself from a common dish should be done with a clean spoon or with the tip of a toothpick that does not go into your mouth.
- As a guest at a meal, be prepared for surprises. You may notice that your host has ordered much more food than he can consume. This is just to “save face”. Another way to show hospitality is by serving yourself, even if you didn’t ask to be served.
- According to Chinese custom, it is the host who pays for the food. This excludes a gathering of friends. However, it is polite to always offer to pay. It is not uncommon to find two people fighting over paying after a meal.
- If you are invited to a meal, be prepared to be served as you are the “guest of honor.” You should do the same if you have invited your Chinese guest to eat.
- Using chopsticks is a delight for your Chinese host. However, if you don’t feel comfortable using them, keep the cutlery on the table if there is any.
- It is recommended never to start a meal while discussing business related matters. Allow your Chinese partner to bring up the subject. Talking about the country’s weather, landmarks, places of interest, your previous tours, art and music, as well as complimenting the food and atmosphere of the restaurant are all topics to discuss before the business. The use of terms such as “Red China” or “Mainland China” should also be avoided.
Tipping used to be an illegal practice before the 1980s. Now things have changed drastically. Drivers, tour guides and, in hotels, bellboys and housekeeping staff expect a tip for good service. However, in local restaurants it is not customary to tip as the bill already includes a 10-15% service charge.
When attending a meeting, men are required to wear a suit and tie. Avoid bright and colorful ties. Strong, vivid colors indicate your lack of respect for your associates. Tuxedos are unheard of in China.
Women should avoid low necklines and stick to muted colors like white, tan, and brown. Flat shoes are well suited for business meetings, while high heels are ideal for a formal meeting.
In terms of casual wear, jeans are acceptable for both men and women in a casual space. However, shorts should be avoided unless you are working out.
business card label
When presenting your business card, remember to use both hands and lean slightly forward. Make sure your card is also printed in Chinese, with your job title printed on the front. This implies your eagerness to do business in China.
Presenting gifts to your Chinese business partners is customary and should not be taken lightly. Here are some tips on how to give gifts:
- Buy gifts before entering the country, so you don’t forget anyone.
- Present the gift in front of everyone and make sure the recipient knows it is from the company and not from you.
- Avoid taking a photograph while presenting a gift.
- You also need to consider the type of gift being given, based on the hierarchy.
- The value of gifts should be moderate, as all of the above would lead to the suggestion of corruption.
- Items such as white flowers, umbrellas, handkerchiefs, knives, scissors, and watches should not be given as they are considered bad luck.
- A couple of anything, be it an indicator of harmony, craft or handiwork from your country or a pen is something to consider as a gift.
- Gifts should not be wrapped in black, white or blue paper as these are related to funerals. Yellow wrappers with black inscriptions are a symbol of death, so this should also be avoided.
- Gold, silver and red are lucky colors.
When communicating with your Chinese business partners, please note the following:
Do not jump: After you’ve asked a question, wait for your associate to respond. He or she may take some time. You don’t need to fill the space of silence.
Don’t lean: Bowing is an age-old tradition and is not practiced these days.
Have your own interpreter: Having a private interpreter is advantageous as you will find out about translation errors or what you missed after a meeting.
Addressing label: When addressing your Chinese partner, you should do so by calling them “Mr, Miss, or Madam” followed by their last name. When introducing herself, her last name is usually introduced first. Getting the pronunciation right is also important. Jargon and jargon should simply be thrown out during a business meeting.
Do not say no”: Saying “no” to your business partner is considered rude. It is better to say “maybe”.