Gan Bei! Ms. Wei Gu has a cool title. She is The Wall Street Journal’s “China Luxury Editor,”and she knows how to toast. Her video appearance in“Drinking at Chinese Business Banquets” is worth a view, if just for the stumped expression on her colleague’s face as he man-handles a lovely goblet of wine. Here’s the short version of her tutorial:
Wait for the host to offer the first and last toasts at the banquet – and make sure you have enough in your glass to participate each time.
To show respect to a superior, gracefully hold your glass with two hands (one on the stem and one supporting the base). Keep the goblet’s rim below the boss’s when clinking. Say“Gan Bei!”
If you clink glasses – you must drain the contents. Repeat all night long. Subsequently, you are expected to smoothly whirl among the many tables, accepting and offering toasts with all the VIPs present. Just don’t look drunk.
Banquets are an important means of developing the friendships that are key to doing business in China. Of course, they are also a way to celebrate new deals or mutual accomplishments. In all cases, alcohol is an integral part of the process. But if downing large quantities of wine or whisky worries you, here are some potential ways to limit your intake:
Alert your hosts if you must abstain before you set foot on the plane. Religious, medical or physical reasons (for example, pregnancy) are all acceptable excuses – but only if you let them know before the social agenda is arranged.
Get a“Drinking Angel.”Senior Chinese executives attend many banquets, and may not want to participate in every toast, so they bring younger employees with them to do the heavy lifting. Being a“drinking representative”may sound like a dream job, but even the interviews can be killer. Just ask the three well-dressed green grads who were found lying in a public plaza in Chongqing – passed out from job interviews that tested their tolerance for booze to the limit.
Say that you are driving. China’s Traffic Safety laws are strict and driving while intoxicated is a criminal offense.You do NOT want to be in an accident in China with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent or over.
Know Your Oenophiles
While the French may be the biggest oenophiles (connoisseurs of wine) on the planet, they frown upon drinking to excess. Wine is carefully selected for each course and may be decanted at the table. Like many Italians, they consider it important to take care of their guests when dining, and they like to evoke a memorable mood through the sharing of excellent meals and exceptional wines.
Giuseppe Pezzotti, senior lecturer at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, offers the following steps for developing a wine palate:
Sight. Examine the color; it should be the right shade and clear, not cloudy.
Swirl. This aerates and enhances the flavor. Notice if it adheres to the side of the glass. The more complex the wine, the more rivulets will appear.
Smell. Pick out the subtle aromas: fruits, vanilla, oak, etc. If the fragrance is “off”the wine may be oxidized, maderized (overheated) or“corked”(infused with TCA, or trichloroanisole).
Sip. Bring the first sip in with some air to enhance the scent and taste.
Savor. Assess the finish. Does it linger? Is there an aftertaste?
Giuseppe suggests learning about one variety of grape or wine at a time. Start with lighter, less complex whites, then move on to the more robust, challenging and multifaceted reds.
May I Pour?
In South Korea and Japan, you never fill your own glass, but you are responsible for your neighbor’s. Even if you do not normally drink alcohol, it is better to accept a glass of wine with dinner, if only for the toasts. Toasting with a glass of water or soda is awkward, and may disappoint your hosts. Just sip it during the toasts, compliment it and leave it relatively full – otherwise they’ll certainly fill it again.
Drinking like a Russian
When Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business Professor Stanley Ridgley was lecturing in Russia, he knew that drinking could be an endurance sport, and was determined not to look like a ‘weak American.’However, after multiple elaborate toasts during one night’s celebrations, he asked his associate, Dmitri, if there was a way he could respectfully slow down the vodka shots. Thankfully, Dmitri taught him the phrase‘Puh-ChootChoot”which is an insider’s way of saying “just a little bit”or“let’s take sips.”Hearing that colloquial line from an American delighted the other Russians and halted the competition. It’s one to remember on your next trip to the Motherland!
WIN A FREE BOOK! CONTEST: What’s your Cultural IQ? If all this makes you long for a bit of abstention, you might elect to do business in predominantly dry environments. True or False? Alcohol is prohibited for observant Muslims, for Sikhs, for Mormons, and typically, for Buddhists.
E-mail your answer to TerriMorrison@ kissboworshakehands.com.
A free copy of Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands: The Bestselling Guide to Doing Business in More Than Sixty Countries will be awarded to a correct respondent, courtesy of F&W Media.
July/August’s Answer: True. Dale Carnegie wrote Public Speaking for Success.
Terri Morrison is a speaker, co-author of 9 books, and is working on her 10th. She is also editor of Kiss Bow or Shake Hands Digital - available through McGraw-Hill. TerriMorrison@kissboworshakehands Twitter @KissBowAuthor. Tel (610) 725-1040. BT