Five Cultural Mistakes You Should Pay Attention When Working in China

Working in China-Teacher Record


When working and living abroad, you will often encounter various cultural differences. Which may cause you to make some silly but harmless mistakes unconsciously. Below is a summary of some of the mistakes that foreigners often make when working in China.


1. Refute your boss in public

Whether it is in the office, meeting room or even group chat on social software, publicly criticizing or rebutting your boss is a taboo in China, because it is not only an insult to your superiors (from their perspectives), but also increases their pressure of making decision. Unlike Western countries, Chinese people generally do not accept employees' criticization of their bosses’ behavior or decision publicly even if you also make constructive suggestions after that. The correct approach is to send a private email to the boss or request a one-on-one private meeting when you find that the boss’s decision is unreasonable or obviously wrong. Not only will this not hurt the boss’s self-esteem, but if your suggestions are effective, you will most likely be rewarded.


2. Not reciprocating treats


The AA system is not popular in China. Your colleagues will invite you to lunch or dinner together after getting off work, and pay for all the food instead of sharing the meal expenses with you. Remember not to refuse their request for a treat which has been considered as a social etiquette for the Chinese. Your colleagues may also bring snacks and fruits to the office to share during the break.

Accepting the favor of others is a happy thing, but don't forget to return the kindness in an appropriate way. For example, ask your colleague to eat a lunch of equal/similar value or bring home specialties to your colleague as a gift. It’s worth noting that spending too little money will make your colleagues feel that you don’t care or even respect them, but too expensive gifts can also make them feel so stressed.

(Tips: If your boss treats you, just accept it directly, otherwise it will look weird.)


3. Do not drink alcohol / get too drunk with colleagues


In China, drinking plays an important role in work culture. There will be drinking sessions during visits to customers, business negotiations, team building, etc. However, unlike Western culture, Chinese drinking culture has its own set of rules. (In some more formal occasions) For example, who is the first to toast (usually the person with the highest position/status); when clinking glasses, keep your glasses lower than your boss. Drinking a little bit is necessary, which will make your colleagues feel that you are honest and trustworthy. If you will get drunk with a little alcohol, then you have to control the amount of alcohol you drink. Don't let yourself make some wrong actions when you are drunk like unconsciously complaining about your work, criticizing your colleagues and bosses, for these may affect your career or even make you lose your job.


4. Disrespect for nap time


Taking a nap may also be one of the cultural differences you will encounter in China. Perhaps in your common sense, sleeping in the workplace means that someone fooled around in a bar last night or had a serious sleep problem. However, Chinese people are often good at using rest time to supplement their sleep even if you find it strange. In fact, it’s their right to do that so never judge it from your own perspective. Moreover, if you don't need a nap, please don't disturb your colleagues' sleep time. Going out of the office to have a call, listening to music or watching TV with headphones will be appreciated.

You may not understand, but please respect the nap time.


5. Being inflexible with overtime


After working in China, you will find that your Chinese colleagues work very long hours each day, and being a foreigner employee can avoid the tragedy as a bonus of “foreigner”. But when your colleagues need your help (such as technical issues or the deadline for planning projects will come soon), you had better lend a hand appropriately. When your colleague asks for your help at 17:55, don't use the reason that you leave work at 18:00 to refuse him. Even if you only work 10 minutes more, it can help you develop the friendship between you and your colleagues and build a team spirit.

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