Doing Business in China

Taking Care of Your Health in China (Part 1 of 2)

Written by Bobby Jan for Gaebler Ventures

Before you pick up your bags to go do business in China, here are some tips for you on how to take care of your health in China. This article, the first in our two-article series, discusses drinking water and sharing meals with Chinese business partners.

Before you pick up your bags to go do business in China, don't forget to pick up some medicine at your local pharmacy.

There are many reasons why you should take precautions regarding your health before going to China.

China is, after all, a developing nation that is on the other side of the world, far away from your home. Americans who go to China tend to report sickness more often than when they are at home. Most of these sicknesses are easily preventable as long as you follow the following suggestions.

Drinking Water in China

Unlike tap water in the United States, most tap water in China does not undergo the kind of treatment required for drinking.

Before drinking tap water, make sure to first boil it. Many stores in China also carry water filters if you still do not feel comfortable drinking boiled tap water.

Many Americans like to drink ice water with their meals. When you ask for ice water in Chinese restaurants in China, most of them will tell you that they don't have ice. Drinking cold water is not a common practice in China.

If you insist, the waiter or waitress will probably get you some tap water. Don't insist! Buy a sealed bottle of water instead. Don't worry, you can buy bottled water at most grocery and convenience stores in China.

Sharing Meals in China

When you are eating with Chinese business partners or friends, dishes are likely to be communal and may not have serving utensils devoted to that dish.

Many Chinese are accustomed to using their chopsticks (the one they are eating with) to pick up food in those communal dishes. This may increase the likelihood of spreading germs and unknowingly transmitting diseases.

Many articles and books give all sorts of advice to Westerners on how to avoid getting sick in this situation. Some of these advices are silly, including the advice of taking a big portion before everyone else (even if you are the guest and your Chinese hosts insist that you try, not take a plateful of, the food out first), not taking second servings, and ordering a personal dish.

Don't forget that you are having a business dinner and since sharing a meal is such a big part of the Chinese business culture, you want to use this opportunity to develop goodwill and shed your imagine as an outsider. Of course, you do not want to compromise your health, but do not exaggerate your actions or your perception of the risk.

As somebody with extensive experience eating in such a setting, I do have a few tips for you that will not make you look strange:

  • Ask for serving utensils. It is as simple as that. When you order separate dishes at a western restaurant, your Chinese partners will not start picking at your dish because the dynamics are different. Similarly, when the waiter or waitress brings out designated serving utensils, my experiences tells me that most of the time everybody at the table will get the idea and start using it, or least more often than otherwise.
  • Eat dry dishes and soup. If you look at the chopstick actions around the table, most of the food that comes in contact with chopsticks are picked up and eaten by the user...unless the dish has a lot of liquid. Memorize the names of your favorite dry dishes and order them. Also, a pot of soup almost always comes with a ladle.
  • Leave your plate modestly full. When your Chinese partner find your plate empty, more likely than not he will use his chopsticks to get something for you and put it on your plate. Have a little bit of every dish on your plate to avoid looking like you are missing something.

If you found this article helpful, you should read the second article in this series on how to stay healthy in China.

Cheng Ming (Bobby) Jan is an Economics major at the University of Chicago who has a strong interest in entrepreneurship and investing.

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