How to survive a Chinese banquet

What people are saying about Mulberry Fields
What you say is absolutely true about what you need to do to succeed in China.” – a company in Italy

Just some more today on my client in Toronto who will be making his first trip to China at the end of this month. He tells me that he is allergic to crab and was thinking about getting some cards made up with the message – in Chinese – that he cannot eat crab. I told him I thought this was being overly careful – not to mention that it would just accentuate his inability to speak Chinese earning him little respect from his hosts. It would after all be better to simply learn how to say “I don’t eat crab” in Mandarin than to hand someone a card on which this statement was printed. I told him he just needs to inform his hosts that he cannot eat crab and that should be enough to get him through the meal without breaking out in hives.

In fact if you travel to China and have any dietary restrictions you will have no problem as long as you tell your hosts beforehand and are somewhat vigilant during the meal. You need to be vigilant because just because you don’t eat fish does not mean it won’t be ordered. So it is always good to confirm with your hosts what you are eating all the more so because there will quite a few dishes on the table at a normal sized dinner or banquet. But relax because the Chinese are the consummate hosts and usually there is someone at the table who is watching out for you. You can think of this person as your “monitor.”

However, being allergic to something and not wishing to eat something because it does not sound or look palatable are two entirely different things. You should never decline any food that is served to you in China even if that includes some of the more unappetizing things that show up regularly at a Chinese banquet e.g. tongue, snake, chicken feet, mule, etc.etc I think this is sheer courtesy no matter where you are. Yet it is uncanny how many times I have been to China with foreign guests who shamelessly winced as they were offered something and then deferred much to the embarrassment of their Chinese hosts. Imagine if someone came to your house for dinner and you prepared an extravagant meal for them only to see them turn up their nose in disgust at one of your dishes. So the best advice is to stomach what you can’t eat ( no pun intended). At the very least it will make for a great story when you get home.

Drinking is another thing you cannot avoid unless you simply do not or can not drink. If you explain this to your hosts they will respect this. But be warned that there is no such thing as drinking in moderation at a Chinese banquet, especially for males. In other words you cannot tell yourself or your hosts that you will have just one beer and quit at that. If you don’t drink with them they will interpret that to mean you do not enjoy their company. In Chinese there is an expression for this. 一醉方休 不醉不归 ‘ yi zui fang xiu bu zui bu gui ‘ which simply means you don’t go home until you are drunk.

The expression is the rule.

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