My Toronto client stopped in Tokyo yesterday on his way to Shanghai and we had dinner. This is his first time in China and so I was giving him some last minute advice. He said he had been told by someone that he cannot drink the tap water in China and that even bottled water can be fake. He seemed to be somewhat concerned about this and I told him not to worry. I told him that no one drinks the tap water in China, not even the locals, unless they boil it first.
As far as fake bottled water, yes, maybe it happens but he should not be concerned about it. He is staying at a western chain hotel in Ningbo and there he should be able to stock up on legit bottled water and carry a few bottles with him when he is out during the day. Vendors will give him bottled water as well and he should drink it without worrying about where it comes from. I told him that at no point should he give voice to his concerns about safe water in China because the vendor might interpret that as sign that my client was looking down on China. I then related my experience of travelling to China with a colleague who asked the vendor about the ice cubes in her Coca –Cola and whether they had been made with bottled or tap water. She had arrived in China with very negative impressions of China to begin with and did not heed my advice to act politely. The vendor did not react favorably, I found it embarrassing and let’s just say it did not help an already strained relationship between our two companies.
As I told my client 入乡随俗. ‘ru xiang sui su’ That’s Chinese for “when in Rome do as the Romans.” Or you might say, when in Rome don’t complain to the Romans about the Roman water.