As a foreigner in China you will eventually have to attend an important or formal dinner, and there are some things you should know:
Chinese formal: if you are thinking you will arrive and everybody will be dress up and “formal” you are wrong, in Guiyang most of the time people wear formal-casual outfits and you are a foreigner so it doesn’t really matter what you are wearing most of the time. If you are supposed to wear something particular someone will let you know.
Places at the table: usually the most important person at the table will sit across from the door, the next person will sit next to him or her, if they want you to give this person face they will ask you to sit next to him or her, on many situation I’ve been invited to dinners and I didn’t know I was playing the role of company, so be careful about this, sometimes people might ask you to sit next to this important laoban (boss) and for them is like an “offer” to give them face, as a girl it’s kind of annoying to be treated like an “escort” so, never do whatever that doesn’t feel right, and trust me at some point you will face this problem.
When the dinner starts: usually the host of the most important person will have a toast, than everybody has to drink the first cup of Chinese white liquor, it’s very strong and it might get you in trouble, after that everybody can start to eat and drink. If it’s your first time having this kind of alcohol remember it’s strong and once you start drinking you might not be able to stop.
Drinking during dinner: So here is a tricky part about dinner that you need to know, once you start drinking you can’t stop, if you drink with guest A and wont drink with guest B you will make guest B “loose face”, if you drink with drink A you are obligated to drink with B, C, D, E and so, because you have to be polite to all of them, rejecting a toast from another guest is a big offense for them, so if you are not willing to drink with each person on the table I advise you from the beginning tell them you can’t drink a lot, or at all, they will still push a lot! LOT LOT LOT! Try to make you drink, saying no its hard, but once you start its rude to stop, so better just make it a little hard for them from the beginning so if you say no it’s enough they understand, if you start drinking a lot than sudden stop they might not let you. Not because they will be persuasive but they will get ANNOYING!
And here are my tricks to drink less:
Try to get a cloth napkin if you can or a wet tissue, so every time you drink you can spit back some baijiu to the napkin, they won’t notice if you do it right.
Ask for some water and when no one notices it, fill up your cup with water instead of white alcohol, this will save you at least one shot.
Move your cup a lot! When I have to drink with a lot of people I try to move my cup a little, act clumsy and drop a little alcohol every time you have to toast, even a few millimeters are valid when you have to drink with a whole table.
There are some rules of etiquette during drinking, one of the most important things you should know is that whenever you have a toast you have to lower your cup, to show respect, showing that the person you are drinking with has a higher status than you. *yeah it sounds like kissing ass.
Do a round: it is expected that some guests do rounds, this means starting with the person who is sitting across the door, (the most important person from dinner) drink with each of the guests on the table, one by one, you will see them do this. If you want to really show off stand up and go to toast with each of this people, you can take a break in between no big deal.
Standing up: every time somebody comes to you to toast stand up and be polite about it. If nobody is standing up you don’t need to do it.
Have a toast to the middle: If you see everyone is quiet try to break the ice, if you can’t speak Chinese asks someone to translate for you, and just say something like Thank you for invite me for dinner, or something like this.
If you don’t like something you can say I don’t eat this, I don’t eat that, if someone invites you for dinner, you can tell this person in advance what you can’t eat, if you are allergic to something, or if you don’t like something, because chances are that during dinner someone will put something on your bowl and you might not want it. It is strange at the beginning but they do it a lot, it’s a way to show they are taking care of you. If the person who invites you knows what you don´t eat he or she might help you to tell the others you can´t eat it.
Before you go drink a glass of water, chances are that you will have to drink a lot; drinking water in between shots helps a lot.
I hope my tips help you and if you have any topics you will need to know more about let me know!
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