Dinner invitation in China
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Before I went to China and HK the first time, which was on a business trip, a common recommendation from one of my bosses for an “acceptable excuse” to say no to certain food was: allergy!
Why did they think I needed such an advice? It was because they themselves had been put to the test, and they expected that to happen to me also.
The "test" would apparently come from the host, and his or her co-workers, employees, relatives or friends, when having a foreigner all by himself, join them in their favourite restaurant.
The test to see if you, being the foreigner, will eat; the test how you are handling the chop sticks, and definitely the test if you can hold your liquor... So my boss felt I needed some good guidance from him before I went.
While such advice can be useful, you may reconsider if you really want to use the "allergy excuse" or not.
So far I didn't do so.
The excuse may be helpful for the more business-related or formal events, but probably not needed if it is a TB meet-up.
I would say, just try everything up to your own (strechted) limits. But if this is somewhat formal or a business related thing, then having you as a visitor may actually be an excuse for your host, to take you and some others out for dinner, drinks and to have some "entertainment" and a good laugh.
If your host has his "own table" at a restaurant nearby his office or home, he may bring his very own bottles of mao tai or some rice wine to the restaurant. So, if he is waiting there for you with a plastic bag with bottles in it, then he will surely like to test you.
In Hong Kong or Southern China the dinner may take the form of a hot pot dinner. Also there may be very “interesting” kinds of food, things like chicken feet, jelly fish, turkey testicles, cow stomach, pigs ear etc.
You are going to do your host a HUGE favor if you undergo it with a smile and be courageous and adventurous. Praise him for having the experience. Tell him that you never thought you would try these delicacies and that it is thanks to him and his hospitality that you have experienced this.
However, if ever you use the famous ‘allergy’ excuse for either the drinking and the eating, your host may feel a bit disappointed, like a little bit of the “fun part” he had in mind is missed.
As concerns your “holding capacity”, if you expect to end up around the drinking table, and if you are concerned about it, then try to plan the dinner a few days after you have arrived in China, rather than the first day, so that your body is more adjusted to the time difference, the different climate, the different air and food etc.
This may seem self-explanatory, but in our drive to spend time productively and in our hurry, we sometimes seem to forget this. What also helps is to be open-minded and not worry in advance.
Reading about what is “expected” from you will make you feel more at ease, and will give you some tips. For the more formal events, it is probably worth the effort to accustomize yourself with the table manners, things like that. It is ALWAYS good for you, if you make your hosts feel that you are interested and have taken the trouble to learn a
bit about the “do’s and don’ts”.
Good reading on this part is the Culture Shock! series of Time-Life books (there is one on most countries).
All for the rest, immerse, open your mind and enjoy!
(P.S. where I used "he" and "his" here, this is because that was the case on my first invitation. Obviously, it can be a "she" and "her" just as well. The difference may be in the place where they invite you to join them after dinner...)