social etiquette in Shanghai
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Updated 12 months ago

Shanghai is China's most international city and, yet, the country's deepest Confucian traditions still influence social interactions to this day. The unspoken rules of networking in China are entirely different from those in the West but creating and maintaining social and professional relationships will be essential aspects of building a life in a new country.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when networking in Shanghai.

Mianzi

Mianzi or face is one of the underlying concepts of all interactions in China. Most people would go out of their way to avoid 'losing face', which basically means being embarrassed in public. The tricky part is that the things that can make one 'lose face' in China are entirely different from what one would consider embarrassing in the West. For instance, something as random as rejecting a dinner invitation may cause one to feel embarrassed.

Meals

As we've hinted at above, meals play a crucial role in Chinese culture. Lavish dinners are a common way to seal business deals, and a lot of social and professional bonding is often accomplished over lunch. If you are invited for a meal in China, it's best to either accept the invitation or schedule the meal for another time. Note that if someone invites you to dinner especially a business partner or a superior, they will typically insist on paying for the meal. You can offer to pay as well ' in fact, some light resistance on your part will be expected, but, eventually, you should let the inviting party pick up the bill.

Do not be too direct

Saying a direct 'no' is a very rare thing in China as refusing someone is looked upon as one of the causes of 'losing face'. In fact, you will rarely hear a clear 'no' from your Chinese friend or colleague, and there are several typical roundabout ways of refusing someone. Being vague and using words like 'maybe' or 'perhaps' are often used as a form refusal. You can also find people exaggerating embarrassment over not being able to say yes: for instance, a friend who can not accept your dinner invitation will immediately try to make it up to you or act overly upset about the inability to come.

Making excuses

Though looked down upon in western cultures, making excuses is quite a common occurrence in China. You will often encounter people telling you that they aren't able to do something because of their boss, colleague or superior. It also used as one of the indirect ways of saying 'no' ' and it's best to acknowledge it as a polite refusal.

Hierarchy

Social and professional rank is highly significant in China, and one's social position often dictates specific rules during everyday interactions. Thus, a person with the highest position in the company would often sit at the head of the table, pick up a check after a meal and be greeted first in a meeting.

Business cards

Business card exchange is an important ritual in China, typically practiced when you are being introduced to someone and before business meetings. According to local etiquette norms, you should accept the business card with both hands and study it for a few seconds before putting it away. If you are in a meeting, you should place the business card on the table in front of you.

While it would be perfectly understandable for your Chinese colleagues or business partners that you may not be aware of all the etiquette technicalities, it is still a good idea to keep the basics in mind and observe the unspoken rules whenever possible ' this would be regarded as a sign of respect and earn you social points in your new environment.

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