What I did to change their belief about the fear of losing face.
If you are familiar with Chinese culture, the concept of ‘face’ is very important. In particular, to a Chinese, a situation can be described as having ‘lost face’ if he or she faces embarrassment in social intercourse. When what he does or says raises eyebrows or seemingly so.
Among Asians, the face can be given, earned, or lost. It is not just a personal shame and may be extended to your family or clan. Sometimes, it may not seem to be right but it makes the person looks good. Compared to the west, where your face or honor is more about personal integrity and truth. But it can require one to be straight-talking and put others in a spot.
This concept of giving face is very important if you are doing business in China. Or your deal will likely fall through! The outspoken foreigner may come across as being rude, overbearing, and uncultured if you are unaware of this practice. It is this skill that will cement the guanxi or relationship that determines your successful business transaction.
If you want a smooth relationship, stay positive and grateful for the occasions. Give sincere compliments, bring a surprise gift (one that is not easily available in that country), and genuinely try to understand how their culture operates.
One of the ways your Chinese counterpart will welcome you is to treat you to a banquet. This is part of their culture to delight their visitor with a feast to make you feel important and save his face, so to speak as he would appear generous. You would be giving face if you accept and make the other party happy.
Some years ago, I was in Shanghai, China and I called on a native friend. Overjoyed, she brought me to a banquet at a top hotel despite my insistence to go somewhere more low-key so as not to make her overspend. As in any country, food is a very important culture.
In Singapore, I would assume that they would like to go to our famous food courts where the varieties and tastes are numerous and much talked about in the media. The restaurant in Shanghai was not a cheap one.
To the Chinese, a feast is a wonderful sight and an occasion for celebration. It is a way to welcome a guest to their home or country.
My friend ordered many dishes without hesitancy and with much zest. It turned out that the banquet was too large to be consumed by the two of us and the law of diminishing returns had kicked in. I had thoroughly appreciated her hospitality but it was quite unbearable to tuck it all in. As a manner of respect for her kindness, I tried my best. I was grateful for the experience of tasting authentic Shanghainese food!
When we next met in Singapore, I took her and her husband to a famous restaurant and ordered what I felt would be adequate. I sounded that we could order more if there was not enough food. It turned out to be a delectable meal and nothing was wasted.
We also frequented the food courts for the signature Singaporean cuisine that is delicious, cheap, and ubiquitous in the malls. I like to think that this is the Singapore style, the practical way.
Back in Shanghai one day, my friend still wanted to treat me to a good meal in a fancy restaurant. This time the amount ordered had been reduced but still bordered on the excess.
I took the initiative and courage to share that in Singapore, we would pack any excess food enough to load a full bowl or plate home to eat later and even on the next day. Especially if the food was very delicious. I do not feel any embarrassment in that action.
For the first time in her life, she broached the waiter to pack the noodles and he came back with a very fancy takeaway pack. We were delighted. I had brought my takeaway culture to Shanghai and I was glad that my friend was not pissed.
The next day, we went to another restaurant and we had a fabulous Tim-sum day. My friend divulged that she was relieved of any cooking the last evening as her husband enjoyed the food that she had packed home. Since then, we were no longer concerned about having excess unconsumed food and feel the guilt of doing so. She was ready to take home any excess good food that is a good amount left.
Meanwhile, on the neighboring tables, I noticed that the couple at each table had a spread of at least eight dishes.
Granted that China had a history of famine and now is enjoying an economic boom. It was evident that the new rich had finished their food sparingly and gingerly, and after they left, a waiter carted a mobile trolley to dispose of all that scrumptious food into a plastic bin. What a waste!
An ingrained culture is traditional and has the advantage of making a country unique in its lifestyle. It is their code of conduct. It is what makes life colorful. For example, during the Lunar New Year, red, gold, and yellow are popular colors because they signify prosperity, good luck, and health. No one should break this cultural tradition. But some cultural habits become rules that are rigid and have no sense to the situation at hand. In such a situation, a gentle request may ease the situation.