Dinners and Banquets:

Dinners or banquets are frequently held for business entertaining and special occasions. As with business meetings, it is a good idea to arrive early.

Chinese follow a strict hierarchy, which also applies to seating. The seat in the middle of the table facing the door is for the host. To the host's left will be the guest of honor. It is wise to wait to be seated rather than choosing a seat. If you host a banquet (a good gift, see "Building Relationships"), follow these same rules.

If the menu is not predefined, you can expect a lengthy discussion on what to order. Just as in business negotiations, everyone must agree before a decision is made. Be agreeable, and do not suggest Western food.

After you are seated, do not immediately begin eating or drinking. Follow the host's lead. The host will typically start with a toast. Then the host will begin to serve those around him. Once that takes place, you can begin your meal.

During the meal, refrain from discussing business. This is a time of leisure and relationship building. Avoid discussions on sensitive subjects such as religion, politics, death or divorce. Expect to be asked what you may consider very personal questions about your age, income and marital status. A safe topic is to comment on what a wonderful time you are having.

Expect a lot of food to be served. Sample a little of each course. You will offend your host if food is left untouched. Scorpions, snake, grasshoppers, dog meat and blood may be served. Leave some food on your plate after each course. A "clean plate" is a signal that you were not given enough food, another insult to your host.

Use chopsticks. Even if you are not proficient with them, it will slow you down. Do not worry; you will get enough to eat. When you are finished eating place your chopsticks on a chopstick rest. Never stick your chopsticks straight up in your bowl, which may remind Chinese of incense burned at rituals such as funerals. Do not drop your chopsticks either as that is a sign of bad luck. Did we mention the Chinese are superstitious? You can rest your chopsticks horizontally across the rim of your bowl.

Observe the table manners of the Chinese around you and emulate them. You may notice the Chinese holding bowls of rice close to their mouths, slurping and even belching. All of these are perfectly acceptable in China. Toothpicks are also often used between courses. As you use the toothpick, cover your mouth with the other hand.

The Chinese enjoy their drinking and will expect you to participate. Sometimes they even test a foreigner's ability to handle his liquor. Note "his" as women often do not partake. Drinking is serious business in China. It helps form personal relationships. Toasts throughout the meal will signal that it is time to drink.

Once the hot towels come out, the meal is over. You will not be asked to leave, but it is time to go. Tipping is not the norm and can be insulting.