June 9/16, 2014; Volume 27/Number 29
By Julian Dossche
(Editor’s note: Julian Dossche is the senior manager, Global Business Development, at USFloors. Dossche recently relocated to the Jing’an District in Shanghai, China, to run the company’s Asian business. Dossche has agreed to pen a quarterly column for FCNews on his perspective of doing business in China, his experiences and where opportunities may lie.)
It has officially been over seven months since my move to Shanghai, China, and it truly has been quite an adventure. Slowly but surely I am navigating through the labyrinth known as the Chinese business world. One of the most interesting business practices, which I have experienced numerous times is the Chinese business meal. This column will bring your attention to the business dinner, but in no way is it meant to downplay the experience offered by business lunches; they can also be quite an experience.
Living in the heart of the hustle and bustle of China and within close proximity of our suppliers allows many opportunities for a Chinese dinner. For those of you who have traveled to visit partners or to broaden sourcing opportunities, I feel certain you know and have experienced what a typical Chinese business dinner involves. For those who have not traveled to China, let me paint you a picture.
It has been a long trip to your Chinese host, and you probably have already discussed numerous issues and opportunities, and have had your fair share of cha (tea). When it is time for dinner you hop in the car and head to the restaurant. Restaurants in China are not comparable to the American tables with white tablecloths and full place settings; instead, they are large, elaborate, colorful buildings with numerous large and separate dining rooms. Each dining room contains a grand round table with a Lazy Susan in the middle. In most cases your Chinese host will seat you as the guest of honor by placing you at the head of the table, and in the case of the round table, the seat of honor is the one that faces the door in which you entered.
As you settle in, they will serve you more cha and bring out either a wine glass or a small shot glass. The type of glass placed depends on the area of China. If you happen to find yourself in the north or south, you will receive a shot glass for baidu, a type of Chinese liquor, or for rice wine. If you are in the middle part of China and the Shanghai area, you will receive a wine glass for either wine or beer. (I should warn you that your Chinese host will most definitely want you to partake in a few drinks.)
Now that all the beverage formalities are laid out, let’s get back to the dinner. Dispersed in front of you is a table full of artistically decorated dishes, some that you recognize and some that you do not. As you begin dinner, the conversation is no longer the same as the one back at the factory. Your hosts will want to discuss family, your country and numerous other topics. At the same time you will partake in toasts and will have had a good bit of whatever the drink of choice was that night. All in all, you will have lots of laughs, good conversation and crossed numerous interesting foods off your bucket list.
Stay tuned for my next column, in which I will discuss the underlying meaning of the Chinese business dinner and why the culture and traditions are practiced. For now, just take a sip of that coffee and take on those tasks you have been meaning to, because I can assure you they have already been accomplished here in the land of the fast-paced dragon.