Crash Course in Chinese Culture

It was September in 2007 I had just gotten off a long flight from Germany and touched down in Guangzhou, right in the heart of Canton. I had finally taken the leap to begin this new chapter in my life and I was excited, terrified, and nervous all at the same time. I read a lot about China and Canton before I got there, but nothing and I mean nothing could have prepared me for the circus that is China.

As I disembarked the plane I heard a sound that could best be described as ( you knowthe froathing mechanism on a espresso machine, you know the thing they use to foam the milk up, a foamer?) a broken foamer on a high end espresso machine. It hissed, gargled, pierced the ear, I had never in my life hear such a sound, I looked around trying to figure out what it was until  *******SPLATTT****** The answer came to a screeching halt right at the tips of my toes.  This sound came from nonother than a (by my estimates) 80 year old Cantonese man who was simply trying to clear his throat and had decided the contents containted within might look just splendid next to my feet and carry on. All of my worst fears about China had been confirmed in less than 30 seconds on the ground. I thought to myself ‘I haven’t even cleared f*cking customs yet and I have to deal with this sh*t?’

Well, I can say… This kind of behavior, unfortunately, became very normal to me. I probably even participated a few times just to fit in. But one thing that never becomes normal is that China will shock you, every single day that you are there. I am still shocked on a daily basis by the things I see and the cultural differences… However I am hear now to let you in on some of them and hopefully give you a head start, so that you can hit the ground running.

  1. Chinese Like to Spit:

    Ok, ‘like’ might be the wrong word, but the do it a lot. This does not just go for spit, if there body wants to release something, fleem, gas, etc, the believe it should be released right then and there on the spot. They do not think this is weird and you have to accept this and let it go.

  2. Chinese Eat Weird Stuff

    The stories are true my friends the weirder the animal and part of the animal more than likely the more expensive it is. And God as my witness if you go to China and have a business dinner you will be present with things that can best be described as the all star season finally of fear factor. However, if you can muscle through it and take a few bites your Chinese counterparts will greatly appreciate it and treat you with a whole new level of respect. I suggest a blindfold and nose clip for such events.

  3. Baiju (AKA Chinese Fire Water)

    Imagine the worst alcohol you can imagine and then add more alcohol to it and that is the best way I can describe Baiju. Something like paint thinner, nail polish remover and turpentine all mixed together. Old Chinese businessmen love this stuff. Typically at dinner and then it will be followed by Karaoke, which sometimes involves singing and sometimes involves…. (well you can search for this on your own). When they bring you to dinner they will more than likely ask ‘Would you ryke (like) some white wine?’. Do not worry I feel for this trick as well… This is not ‘White Wine’ This is Baiju translated very poorly and unfairly (bai = white ju(joe) = wine) Interestingly enough if you order Hongju, you do infact get Red Wine. Anyways this is like the finally step of hazing at a fraternity, if you can make it through this you are officially in the club and in business.

  4. Chinese Are VERY Polite

    Chinese are PAINFULLY polite. This means even if you are blatantly wrong, they will not tell you, even if they think you are retarded they will not tell you, even if they plan on never doing business with you again and this was infact the last shipment we ever plan on producing for you, but think you for coming by our factory… they will not tell you. In order to get through this politeness you have to really read between the lines. If a supplier isn’t writing you back it is usually because they are not interested and if they do finally respond it is because they do not want to be impolite. This is probably the most difficult thing to navigate in China, but also the most important. Likewise, you should do your best to be as polite as humanly possible to your Chinese counterparts, things like ego, impatience, rudeness, outburst, etc. are not well received in the far east and it will do nothing productive for you or your business to act in such a way. The best thing you can do, is bite your tongue, shake your head and smile. Actions speak much louder than words in China, so make sure you act accordingly.

  5. English is Not Easy For Most Chinese

    Despite having learned it for years in school Chinese have a hard time speaking and understanding English. This is not because they are dumb, this is because in school they recite, read and write a lot of English, but do not actively speak English in conversations. They are only drilled as groups. So when you speak, speak slowly and clearly, take your time and try to explain things. Also remember you do not speak (Mandarin/Cantonese) and you are in their country, so respect the fact that they are trying to speak your language.

The reason I wanted to share a few of these things with you is because if you can make it through the spit gauntlet, the cavern of frog heads, the Baiju hazing, the Engrish invasion, and the temple of politeness you will be a million stesps ahead of most people who attempt to do business in China. In closing, China is an awesome place that definitely takes some getting used to, but it is also one of the most amazing places that I have ever lived in my life.

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