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The nuances of Chinese culture

Published:Sunday | April 1, 2012 | 12:00 AM

The following is another in a series of articles prepared by the Jamaica China Friendship Association.

Within recent years, a growing number of Jamaican businesses have increased their dealings with China, or new ones have begun, making it necessary for their owners, managers and staff to visit China on a regular basis. On the other hand, they also receive visits from their associates from China.

It is necessary that we be aware of some of the nuances involved in situations such as these, of personal contact between these two sets of people with such differing cultures and practices as we try to arrange carefully planned meetings.

Though practical and businesslike, the Chinese do not like to rush, hence they exercise a great deal of patience. They are conscious of the long airplane ride, and sometimes tedious and tiring journey from halfway around the world, and are anxious to ensure that their guests have had adequate rest. They will, perhaps, insist that the travellers have a good meal, a good rest and then would be ready to conduct business, visit factories, etc.

You, perhaps, know that one of the things the Chinese are particularly fond and proud of is their food and will insist on taking you for a good meal. They would be very insulted if, like in some instances, the visitor expressed a preference for fast-food chicken, as the Chinese food may be unfamiliar. They are bound to offer to take you to a good restaurant, and nowadays in China, you can get Chinese food much to your liking, as they are aware that the growing number of visitors are from countries which have Chinese restaurants.

Building a relationship

Be aware, though, that the food up north, like in Beijing is a bit strange to Jamaicans, as we are accustomed to the food of southern China, which is the area from which most of the migrants moved to other parts of the world. So fond are they of showing off their food, that you have to be careful that you don't spend all your time restaurant-hopping to the neglect of your business. Don't be too upset if they do not like our dishes, but you are safe offering jerk, just hold off on the pepper. Just a touch is enough. Sitting over a meal is a good way to get to know your host and to build a good relationship.

Two things are at work here. The better relationship you have, the better will be your discussions and networking becomes a bit easier.

In this way too, you avoid embarrassment which can sometimes occur in the most unexpected and unusual ways. You have limited time in China, and you have a host who is bent on showing you everything, and you might get a little impatient. So be tactful and polite in your refusal of the social side of the visit. You want to be as pleasant as ever, and you don't want your host to lose face. It is very important that he/she is not embarrassed.

Then there is the giving and receiving of gifts. Of course that is a display of cordiality and is the perfect gesture to bridge the gap between the professional and the personal. It can serve as an icebreaker and is a good way to show goodwill and a good way to gauge a personality. Now China makes every novelty and souvenir under the sun, for nearly every country under the sun , and things we usually proudly sell as Jamaican, are made in China.

Safe to give gift

You would be safe, therefore, to give something which is authentic or indisputably Jamaican and you can't do better than good Jamaican coffee or a bottle of aged Jamaican rum, 15 or 20 years, nicely packaged for presentation. If your host is a woman, forget the rum. Be prepared to answer questions on such subjects as population, gross national product, employment, cost of living, educational institutions and also questions about your own factory, your office and your staff, if applicable.

One very simple thing which must not be overlooked. Nearly everyone you meet in China - be they in business, education or government - will present you their business card. Be sure that you have yours to return or initiate the gesture. And, please, never present anything with one hand only. Presenting your card, or receiving an offered card with one hand is a 'no no', and in addition a slight bow would be appropriate. Bowing to someone you meet shows a sign of respect and regard. The wise visitor would have taken the trouble to learn things about Jamaica before arriving and the Jamaican would do well to do the same. Remember that China is a vast land with varying peoples with varying cultures and customs, so be wary.

A word of caution - if you are going shopping in China, be sure to buy costly items only from reputable shops and people. There is a great deal of fake merchandise being offered, for example jewellery and watches that look very real. To the uninitiated, a fake jade will look every bit like the real thing. Silk is another item to be careful of, and also electronic gadgets, and you may think that you are getting a bargain. Be guided by your host and you can't go wrong, and remember the old Jamaican proverbs, 'You pay dear when yuh bargain cheap' and 'dishonest butcher always give plenty brawta'.