For those unsuspecting businesspersons heading to Taiwan or China from the West, you need to know what you’re in for once the day’s work is done and your hosts take you out for a night of fun.
First of all, some of your suppliers will understand that for most Westerners, business entertainment centers around providing your guests with a fine meal at a nice restaurant. One or two glasses of wine or a beer or two may be consumed. Conversation will be largely centered on matters not related to business. If your hosts understand this, then you can expect to go to a nice Western or Chinese style restaurant and enjoy a few quiet drinks. You’ll discuss a bit more business than you would back home–the Chinese can’t escape their own culture, which teaches them that a business deal is not finalized until you’ve socialized and patted each other on the back a few times. However, you’ll be safely back in your hotel at 10pm, in time to call your spouse and kids back home if they are haven’t already left for school or work.
If your hosts don’t understand that most Westerners prefer this sort of evening–I have had clients who will get back to the hotel, change into party attire, and head out to drink and have fun until the wee hours, but most are content to eat and get back to the hotel–well, then you’re very likely in for a wild evening. You can of course request an evening of entertainment, local style, if you prefer this. Just say “I’m here to do business, and to have fun. Let’s do what you normally do for fun on a night out on the town.”
If you are entertained local-style, here’s what will probably happen:
7 to 10pm-The Dinner
Still dressed in business attire, the factory boss will drive you in his BMW or Benz to his favorite eatery. Key managers will be invited, some of whom will likely be female. Friends who owners of other factories will be called out to put on a good show and to keep things lively. The dinner will start quietly, but soon the beer and whiskey will start to flow and predictably, the conversation will become more free-ranging as inhibitions drop. The noise volume will rise steadily until it’s at a low roar.
You will often find that as people are eating their fill and knocking back drinks, the boss will open up of his own accord. If he puts his arm around your shoulder and starts talking, listen carefully. He’s about to tell you what he really thinks about the business you are discussing, something he won’t do during the daytime when you’re at the office.
You are in danger of becoming very drunk at this point because (a) you probably don’t normally drink more than one or two servings of alcohol at a dinner (b) you’re likely to be jet-lagged and (c) everyone at the table will want to drink with you. In Taiwan and China, you don’t nurse a drink. You drain your glass as soon as it is filled and another person’s glass is raised to indicate that he wants to drink with you. Thank heavens beer and whiskey glasses in Taiwan and China are designed to accommodate local drinking culture: they are small enough that you can do a shot without feeling sick.
One way to preserve your liver and at least a semblance of sobriety is to insist that where you come from, whiskey is always taken with Coca-Cola, and order a couple of cans right away. That way, if ten or twelve people each want to drink two or three glasses with you (the women most likely will not drink), you’ll survive the evening by diluting the whiskey with Coke.
If you don’t drink, just explain politely and firmly that you don’t drink, but that they are welcome to proceed as they normally would. You’ll be happy with a Coke or some tea. The boss will likely not drink, though he will be in a good mood, and that will help you when it comes time to talk business.
As people get happier and happier, they will become touchy. Not sensitive, but tactile. They’ll put their arms around you, hold your hands, rub your leg, all sorts of things. Men in Taiwan and China are generally quite repressed and only let loose when they are drinking in the company of friends.
Another important point: In Taiwan and China, deals are not really finalized–indeed, the real issues are often not even discussed–until you’ve been out to dinner and had some drinks. The best thing you can do is to relax, get into the spirit of things, tell some jokes, drink with your group, but hold on to your faculties as best you can so that when either your or the boss brings up the real issues, you are able to function.
Negotiation Tip: If you’re trying to get the boss to agree to a lower cost or make some other concession, hit him up between drink #4 and drink #6. If you try him before then, he won’t yet be in the “Mr. Generous” personae that Chinese businessmen love to adopt. If you try him after he’s had six drinks, he’ll be too drunk to remember what he promised.
Once everyone is stuffed, and most of the party is completed soused, the female managers will be dismissed. If you are willing to continue with the evening at this point, you are now in for one of the wildest evenings of your life.
10:30pm to After Midnight: The Entertainment
Now, dear reader, I must confess to a bit of hesitation on my part. I’ve got the next part written, but I am not sure if I’ll post it in its current form, which pulls no punches.
It is not that I’m ashamed of anything I’ve done, but I’m not sure if it is a good idea to publish the next part without a bit of whitewash. Give me a few days to think about it, and I’ll post Part Deux either unvarnished, or a bit more sanitized.
What do you think? Comments welcome.