Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Chinese Business Banquets

For a raucous good time, nothing beats a Chinese banquet. The Chinese love to conduct business while eating, and if you are lucky, your trip will include one of these feasts. The atmosphere is very different from a formal Western dinner. While a Chinese banquet can often seem rowdy, there is in fact a deep foundation of etiquette.

Traditionally the host sits facing the door of the private room, to allow passersby to see (and admire) him. The meal begins with a selection of appetizers such as chilled meat. Try a little of everything. Sometimes, it's best not to know what you are eating.

Soon you will stand up for a toast expressing hope for great cooperation and success in your new business ventures. As you clink glasses, show respect by keeping the rim of your glass below that of your host. Returning the toast later in the meal will leave a good impression.

The Chinese phrase for a toast ("Gan Bei") literally means "Dry your glass," but don't do that. A sip is fine, especially if you are drinking Baijiu, the traditional Chinese liquor. Some Chinese drink a big glass of yogurt in hopes of preventing drunkenness. A better bet is just to be sensible. Being a little tipsy is ok, but it is usually bad form to get blotto.

Compliments and light talk will keep the mood friendly. Smoking is very popular, though you don't need to do it. There will be loud chewing, and it is perfectly fine to spit out bones or gristle beside your plate. A lot of food will be left uneaten. This Chinese custom shows that the host is not being stingy with you.

The relaxed, jovial atmosphere of a banquet is very well suited to doing business in China. Your meal will taste even better if you and your Chinese partners are able to reach an understanding while enjoying one of the world's great cuisines. Gan Bei!

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