You’re a foreigner working for a Chinese company. Your boss has organized a formal staff dinner, you’re going to be the only foreigner there and you’re determined to make a good impression. What are the Dos and Don’ts of a Chinese company dinner?
Firstly, don’t panic too much. Chinese people don’t expect foreigners to know much about Chinese dining etiquette. In fact, most of your coworkers will probably be gobsmacked if you can pick up a slice of roast duck with your chopsticks and safely guide it back to your plate. But you’re not just any old foreigner. You want to prove you’ve mastered Chinese table manners as well as that guy from Avatar mastered the Na’vi lifestyle. So how can you avoid embarrassing yourself at a company dinner in China? Here are some basic rules to go by:
1) Be careful where you park yourself
You’d never go sit in your boss’s chair in the office, but did you know your boss also has a designated seat at every table in every restaurant they’ll ever take you to? When dining in a restaurant or a private room, the seat farthest away from the door is considered the seat of honor. When dining with the people from work, therefore, this seat is reserved for the big boss. If you unwittingly sit in this seat, you’ll at best raise a few giggles, at worst make things very awkward.
The rules about seating don’t end there. The people who sit closest to the boss hold higher positions, while those who sit farther away are of a lower rank. To make things even more complicated, strictly speaking, those who sit to your boss’s left hold the 2nd, 4th and 6th most important positions, while those who sit to your boss’s right hold the 3rd, 5th and 7th. As the token foreigner in the office, you may find you can claim a higher seating position than you deserve. If you don’t know where to park yourself, however, just remain standing until someone takes pity on you and tells you where to go.
2) Don’t place your napkin on your lap
You’re probably used to laying your entire napkin on your lap when sitting down for a meal at a restaurant. While this isn’t incorrect per se, you’ll likely be the only one to do this at a Chinese company dinner. Chinese diners prefer to slip one corner of their napkin under their plate—or better yet, have a waiter do it for them—while letting the other three corners spill over the edge and onto their lap. This one is really not a big deal, but when in Rome…
3) Use your chopsticks wisely
Unless you’re leading the banquet, don’t touch your chopsticks or any of the food until the guest of honor indicates that it’s time to eat. Touching your food before everyone else is ready to eat is considered to be very rude.
It should go without saying, but you should also never fiddle or play with your chopsticks at a formal dinner, no matter how bored you get. Don’t drum them on your bowl, use them as pointers, stab your food with them or stick them vertically into your rice bowl like it is a religious offering. If serving spoons or chopsticks are supplied with the communal dishes, don’t use your personal cutlery to grab food from the center of the table. Keep your chopsticks propped neatly on the chopstick rest when you’re not eating.
4) Stay seated unless absolutely necessary
Once everyone has arrived and is seated, resist the urge to stand up or walk around the table to chat to your colleagues. Ask the waiter if you need anything, and remain seated unless you’re making a toast or absolutely must use the restroom.
5) Don’t get too drunk, but pretend you are!
Although the government has been making efforts in recent years to stamp out the culture of super boozy business banquets, if your company dinner is taking place in the evening, there’s likely to be at least some weak beer or red wine going around and quite possibly a decent amount of baijiu. While the women in the office can probably get away with drinking very little or even no alcohol, men may find themselves peer-pressured into downing multiple drinks over the course of the evening whenever someone toasts them.
You’re likely to see a lot of faces redder than a Chinese wedding and endure shouting loud enough to start a small earthquake if things are being done “properly.” But before you get stuck in like it’s the last day on Earth, consider what you might say to your colleagues or even your boss when you’re drunk. If at all possible, avoid getting too sloshed by only sipping your drink at toasts and drinking plenty of water in between.
There are, however, some advantages of at least appearing drunk at a Chinese company dinner. A Chinese professor once told me, “When you’re drunk, you say what you’re really thinking. So when you pretend to be drunk but your thoughts are clear, tell your coworkers and your boss how much you respect them. You can say, ‘Oh, Mr. Liu, I have always admired your work.’ Mr. Liu will be pleased because he’ll think you’re telling him what you’ve always thought of him and that it slipped out accidentally because you’re drunk.”
6) Hide your toothpick activities
Assuming that you’ve come this far without making a fool of yourself, one of the last things you may want to do at a Chinese business banquet is use a toothpick. While this is by no means a requirement, it doesn’t hurt to get those last bits of chili out of your teeth before you say your goodbyes.
Make sure you use your toothpick the Chinese way, however. This involves hiding your teeth during the process, which is actually easier than it sounds. Cover your entire mouth with one hand while you slip the toothpick in from underneath with the other. It’s a nifty little trick that will make you look effortlessly in tune with Chinese dining customs.
Congratulations! You made it through your first Chinese company dinner. Now all that’s left is to wait in awkward silence along with your colleagues until your boss declares the dinner to be over and you can all go home.
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May 06, 2023 18:59 Report Abuse
I wish to apply any farm work in China like fruit picking or any job available in the same field.
May 06, 2023 01:40 Report Abuse
Don't get too drunk, but pretend you are - that's a classic piece of advice. Wish I had seen that one before my time spent as a company executive.
Apr 08, 2023 16:09 Report Abuse
As someone who has worked in China for several years, I found this article to be very informative and useful. Chinese company dinners can be a bit intimidating for foreigners, especially if they are not familiar with the cultural norms and expectations. The author's tips on what to do and what not to do are spot on and can make a big difference in how you are perceived by your Chinese colleagues. In particular, I agree with the author's recommendation to be respectful and polite, especially towards your superiors. In China, hierarchy and respect for authority are highly valued, and showing deference to those in positions of power is considered appropriate behavior. Similarly, bringing a small gift or offering to pay for the meal can go a long way in establishing goodwill and building relationships. Overall, I highly recommend this article to anyone who is planning to attend a Chinese company dinner or work in a Chinese business environment. The tips provided are practical and easy to follow, and can help you avoid any potential misunderstandings or cultural faux pas. Thank you, echinacities.com, for publishing this helpful article!
Apr 07, 2023 15:38 Report Abuse
Don't be pressured into behaving in a way that is culturally inappropriate for you. To be forced to do so amounts to cultural bullying. Cultural respect works both ways. As a non=drinker, i was pressured to drink, and had to endure scowls when i point-blank refused (politely). It made for a very uncomfortable meal. By all means respect Chinese customs, but the Chinese should respect your customs too.
Apr 04, 2023 22:43 Report Abuse