Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Doing My Part for Global Diplomacy

The company that I work for is actually pretty big. As in global. In my office alone, we have a fairly large contingent of Ukrainian computer programmers and let me tell you, you have not lived until you've listened to two Ukrainian men argue in Slavic over who forgot to refill the coffeepot after pouring the last cup. Those Ukrainians, they love their coffee fiercely.

Anyway, we sometimes have visitors to our office from our other locations around the world. Today a visitor from one of our Chinese offices, whom we'll call Lisa (did you know that the Chinese all adopt American sounding names for business purposes because they are easier to pronounce? I think this is kind of sad, actually), arrived for a month-long project. Having been pre-selected as the office ambassador prior to Lisa's arrival, the tasks of showing her around the office and taking her out to dinner after work fell to me.

Early in the day, I did some last minute research on Chinese culture to ensure that I didn't do anything to inadvertently offend her. Number one on the list of "Don't Do This To A Chinese Person" was touching. Apparently, the Chinese dislike being touched by strangers. Chinese people and I have that in common, actually. Interestingly enough, when Lisa arrived, the first thing she did was hug me.

My research also said the Chinese don't like to use the word no. If you ask a question they will respond with "Maybe" even if the answer is really no. My research instructed me to do the same, so as not to appear rude. At one point, Lisa asked me if the bathroom was "that way" and pointed in the wrong direction. When I said "Maybe" and pointed the other way, she looked at me like I was maybe smoking a little of the crack.

At dinner, Lisa asked me what I like to do for fun. When I mentioned my daughters and their various extracurricular activities, she said "Oh, you don't look old enough to have a baby, even if you have at age twenty. I am twenty six and have no babies." This is when I remembered that my research also said that I should be prepared to answer personal questions that I might think are inappropriate, and to be vague but polite.

When Lisa asked, "You will have more babies, yes?" I thought to myself "Hell to the no" but instead just laughed and and answered "I don't know...maybe?"


  1. Ha! I laughed aloud at the part about pointing to the bathroom. I'm sure she thought you were insane.

    Our friend Ted is Taiwanese and his real name is like "Wen-Ting" (my transliteration) or something like that. It makes me sad that he has to go by Ted. But he doesn't seem to mind.

  2. Hi,
    The reasons the Chinese will tend to say "Maybe" is coming from their 'savings face' thing. It's a cultural thing, they don't want to be embarrass. This is almost similar to how shocked I was when I first got to China and went grocery shopping, a lady hit me very hard (I got a bruise the next day) on the back of my foot with her shopping cart and when I turned around, she acted as if I was invisible, not a word of sorry. Later, I found out that it was not that she's not sorry but it was because she's embarrassed to 'loosing face'. As for the English name, I think just about everyone in modern day China now have them. I remember one of my hubby's colleague asked him to pick an English name for him and hubby was so stunned LOL.

  3. You could tell her you are looking for a surrogate and is she interested??

  4. Your answer to her question was perfect!!!

  5. Well done! How smart to be so prepared:)

  6. ha ha ha.... i love the "maybe" thing for the bathroom... lol. Ugh... I wish some Americans would stop asking questions like that. people will never learn. (-:



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