By an OTC student
It seems like yesterday that I was still sipping on my milk tea and feeding my addiction.. where did the time go?
Before the feared day of departure back to the Netherlands, I had a nightmare that I was underway to the airport. Luckily when I woke up I saw the ugly wallpaper in my room and felt a relief that I was still in China. Now that I’m back in the Netherlands, I’m debating if I should paint my walls in the same way. But that is enough about wallpaper, It’s time to think about what I actually learned this half year in China.
What I noticed the most, was that traditional and historical cultural phenomena still have a significant impact on Chinese restaurant culture. For example, Chinese residents finding it inappropriate to tip a waitress, the host-guest paradigm where the host and the guest have a complicated relationship with several layers and the importance of ‘’face’’ which is so significant that people are willing to fight over not losing it. As just the word ‘’face’’, can be quite confusing to read, I’ll mention it from now on as 面子.
Something I experienced daily was the importance of 面子. As it is such a complicated concept to fully grasp, I felt daily pressure to make sure that I acted appropriately to preserve, give and not take away 面子. One example I would like to share is the time that I ate at a local hot pot restaurant with a Japanese classmate. I visited this restaurant often and built a relationship with the owner. While getting a sauce, the owner started talking loudly about how often I came to the restaurant and brought along foreign friends. This made me feel quite uncomfortable and for a second I did not know how to respond. If I responded by ignoring or denying, the owner would have absolutely lost 面子 in front of her regular customers and staff. Luckily, because of the 5 months already spent studying in China, I learned new ways to praise someone, and that is what I did. I started to compliment the food she served, the low prices and the excellent service. I believe that this was the most appropriate way to respond, as according to Schwartz’s cultural theory regarding Embeddedness, maintaining the social and traditional order is of utmost important in China.
I felt proud, as it seemed that all the studying and experience was actually paying off. The High-Context nature of Chinese culture really presented itself as well in this situation. if I did not learn about the unwritten aspects of dealing with 面子 during my study abroad, I would not have known how to react and would have probably not have been treated as nicely again. The owner however, must have seen it differently. I believe that the way that I replied made her feel happy that I did not make her lose 面 子, but instead gave it. From her perspective, the praise that I gave improved her reputation and standing, which are all dimensions of 面子.
As for her restaurant, I hope that this increase will bring even more customers and turn it into a booming and bustling eating destination. This knowledge about how to communicate in Chinese culture, will not only be useful in future interactions with China and it’s residents, but also in local and international communication with people from different cultures and backgrounds.