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Chinese Culture >> Asian Articles >> Asia After Hours

Asia After Hours

by: Tracey Wilen

The business day does not end at 5 P.M. in Asia. Dinner and after-hours entertainment are important parts of doing business and establishing and reinforcing business relationships. Women should plan to join business dinners. After that you can use your best judgment as to which other activities you wish to attend. If you decide not to join the additional after-hours activity, you won't miss out on any business-related discussions, since this socializing is mostly for relaxing and for people getting to know each other better on an informal level.

After-hours activities differ somewhat from country to country. In Singapore, for example, dinner usually suffices, and additional entertainment is usually not suggested. In Taiwan, Korea, and Hong Kong, additional entertainment may be provided. This may range from drinking and singing in a karaoke bar to bar-hopping or visiting a hostess bar. This last activity usually includes the companionship at your table of an attractive young woman who will pour your drinks, make conversation, and perhaps, for men, even offer some sexual gratuities. It is understood and often expected that women do not participate in these "men only" activities, where business is rarely discussed.

As a woman, you can accomplish your core relationship-building during dinner and feel comfortable about leaving afterward, using a polite excuse such as having to make a phone call or send a fax or that you have jet lag. However, now that Asian hosts are becoming more accustomed to female business visitors, they may suggest a harmless evening at a karaoke bar where you sing along with music videos. Even then, you still have the option to bow out if you don't wish to be put on the spot and have to sing in front of your colleagues. Our recommendation is to ask in advance about where the group is going, gauge the quality and depth of the relationship you have established with your hosts, and then decide what you want to do. The key message here is that no matter what you decide to do afterward, you should always plan to attend the dinner.

Following are some general observations and guidelines that may be of help. Since customs vary somewhat in each of the Four Tigers, refer also to Chapter 5, "Dining," and the individual country chapters.


In Asia

After the business day is over, there will usually be a business dinner. It is important that you participate, since the dinner is an extension of the business meeting and continued business discussions may take place there. The more relaxed atmosphere at the dinner venue will help nurture your relationship with your Asian business peers and build trust.

When your trip or negotiations have come to a close, it is customary to be invited to a thank-you dinner. Do not be intimidated by the rigid Asian protocol for banquets and business meetings. While it is helpful to have a grasp of Asian etiquette, the important thing is to be polite and cooperative and to demonstrate goodwill. If in doubt, follow Western etiquette. You do not have to apologize for your non-Asian manners, but your guests will appreciate your sincerity if you display knowledge of or interest in the way they do things.

At a Chinese-style banquet, guests are usually seated at a round table, with the chief guest to the left of the host. In ancient days, people would carry their swords in their right hands. The host demonstrated his trust and goodwill toward his guest by seating the chief guest on the left, which gave the guest the advantage should a fast-draw swordfight ensue. These days, not everyone observes traditional protocol, so in all cases you should follow the lead of your host. Chinese hosts will often accompany each guest to the door when a meal or party ends. High-ranking guests may be accompanied to their automobiles and the host may wait until they drive away before going back inside.

Toasting occurs in all cultures, but is more frequent during formal Chinese dinners, where there may be a series of prompted toasts. If you are the guest of honor, you should make the first toast. Prepare one beforehand; do not defer the honor to another colleague.

Korean customs are similar to those of Japan. Dinners are long and often quiet. Tables are rectangular or square, with the host at the center and the other guests seated around him. The guest of honor or highest-ranking guest is seated across from the host; the ends of the table remain empty. Generally, only one toast is offered at the beginning of the meal. Koreans also accompany their guests out to their automobiles.

, Follow basic etiquette. Wait for the host to signal the beginning of the meal before you begin eating. For example, pass the bread and butter around to your guests, unless it is placed within easy reach on the table. When you take a pat of butter, don't try to cut it into a smaller portion before you put it on your plate. Break your bread and eat it in small pieces rather than trying to wolf down a whole piece at once. Don't reach across the table for anything-ask that it be passed to you. Never push your plate to the center of the table when you are finished. Excuse yourself to blow your nose-don't do it at the table or in sight of the other diners. Refrain from chewing gum.


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