I am originally from France but my parents are both from different origins so I have always been interested in languages and curious about other cultures. As I studied law in university, it then made sense to me to choose international business law as a specialty because I wanted to incorporate the use of other languages in my daily legal practice.
First, I did an internship in the U.S.A., then in England. However, I felt that I needed to understand more of the world. I wanted to understand a different way of doing business. I looked online for an internship on a French job offer website. My feet landed in China, Guangzhou, in the Guangdong province and the third city of China after Shanghai.
Below, you will find my personal tips on how to enhance your future business trip or internship in China.
First of all, get in writing the Chinese version of the name of all your important places and where you want to go. If you have already been there, get the business card. If not, find it online. You won’t know how to get anywhere by yourself at first, so taxi drivers will be your best friends. In addition, in my city at least 70% of the population did not speak any English at the time (based on my personal overall feeling).
My second advice will be to not be afraid to go out there. You have not travelled so far to stay inside, right? In addition, connections are everything when you are so far from home. You will need people who already knows the ground to teach you the codes. Because trust me, you won’t understand anything that surrounds you. How to get connections? Don’t be afraid to initiate conversations with strangers. Register on all the expats associations/forums you can find.
In addition, it is also about living a human experience. It is not because people do not speak your language that they do not want to share. Not everybody gets the chance to go abroad. Chinese people will love to speak with you and introduce you to their world. For instance, in China playing games or dancing in parks is very much loved by a major part of the population. What is stopping you from joining them? Trust me, I tried it.
My third advice will be to forget about your occidental automatic reflexes. They won’t work. Invent new ones. For instance, as I arrived to my apart hotel, 3hours after I landed, I decided to go outside and explore the surroundings. So I walked, and I walked. I walked so much that it started to get dark outside. My first occidental automatic reflex was to get out my phone so I could look out the direction in google maps. People, Google maps does not work in China! In fact, Google is blocked! So I stopped a taxi. I showed the driver the hotel’s business card but he refused to take me. I stopped another one but it was still a “no”. And another one, and another one. After the 10th cab stopped, I started panicking. It was now dark outside. I did not know anyone. I did not know where I was. I decided to stop people in the street to ask the way. However, when they were expats, they did not know where my hotel was nor when they were Chinese and/or did not speak any English. You will learn that Chinese prefers to say they don’t know then say something wrong as a sign of politeness. To my relief, the 20th cab I stopped knew the place. He drove 5 minutes. I was 2 blocks away.
Finally, this paragraph is about the sesame of the Chinese business card. If you want good business relationships, get yourself some business cards before leaving. This is how you will do business. In China, the business card defines whether your interlocutor is interested in you and what you have to say. So, the following guidelines are extremely important. When one person handles his/her card to you, take it with two hands and read the card for at least one minute, really meaning what you are reading. Then, store it in your wallet, not in your back pocket. The place you will put the card gives a sign to your interlocutor on how much this relationship is important to you. Then, take good care of this card.
These were my basic tips on how to make the most out of your business stay in China. The rest is really up to you. But remember to always be open minded and that you are the foreigner there. This means that you are the one who has to adapt. Especially when they do things at work that will look odd to you. For example, napping on the desk after lunch or smiling when they do not understand. At the end, Chinese people are extraordinary. You don’t really need to learn the language before or when you are out there. Indeed, it could help. For instance, I did take private classes when I was there. These private lessons were given by a student who was studying my language, French and was keen on sharing experiences. I met her through one of my connection. Even though there were hundreds of add online I thought it would be best to learn with a common connection. I took these classes because I truly believe that when learning the language you do not just learn a language, you learn the culture around it. Chinese are the nicest people I have met. China is a warm welcoming nation. Then, drop the negative image. Sometimes Occidentals have this arrogant way of seeing the world. Go discover new horizons. I swear you will see things differently after that. It will change you forever.
Thank you China.
written by Annabelle Sabanowski for LanguaJob