The ‘doing business in China’ handbooks generally agree on one thing: it helps to build a relationship with your – future – business partner if you can express yourself in Mandarin. “Basic knowledge of Chinese language is greatly appreciated”, as one manual put it. But when and how can one apply this basic knowledge? And what exactly are you going to say? We asked our Club China Helpdesk experts for help.
Peter Pronk, Beijing: “Careful with the pronunciation"
“I agree: when Western people do business in China it helps when they learn some sentences or words in Chinese to impress their host. However, you need to be careful that you fully learn the pronunciation. You don’t want to tell your host unintentionally “your office looks like a horse stable”. Chinese is a very difficult language and the correct tone and pronunciation is very important.”
“It is also very important to know some facts about China. You will impress your host by telling him that the favourite food of Mao ZheDong was slowly boiled fat pork belly. Your host will find it equally interesting if you know that the Chinese landed in America before Columbus (1421).”
“Furthermore, some small important signs are important to know. When you toast with the host always lower your glass below the host’s glass. He will try to go below you to show his or her respect but you need to go lower. Also don’t speech formally after the host has formally welcomed you and handed you a nice gift. Hold the speech, wait until the end of the dinner. When someone pours you a drink you tap two fingers on the table next to the glass to thank for it. Chinese will be certainly impressed that you know this.”
“These are some words that you can learn: xiexie (thank you), meo wenty (no problem), ganbei (empty glass). In China if you say “ganbei”, you need to empty the glass and Chinese love it when foreigners know how to drink. Also remember when you meet your Chinese counterpart for the first time it is the custom that you toast (“ganbei”) with each other three times. If you accept this that could mean that everyone on the table will drink with you three times. If you have a strong body, a good liver and thick blood this would be not a problem!”
Raymond Koot (Taipei)
“I fully agree: Chinese love to hear you trying to speak Mandarin. And we are not that different. Don’t you love it when Chinese or Americans try to speak any European language? I visited a trade show in Germany last week, with a great number of Chinese business people attending. Having lived in Taipei for several years now, I was glad I was able to chat a bit with my counterparts, to their great surprise! To them it is still very rare to hear any western person speak their language. Don’t expect me to have lengthy conversations, I just throw in some words and lines that I happen to know. This is my quick list of Mandarin. I tried to present the words and expressions phonetically correct. Go ahead and try them next time you arrive in China. Good luck!”
Nihau (Nihau Ma?): hello, how are you?
Sjie Sjie or XieXie – thank you
Bi-jongkatsjie - you’re welcome
Toj toj toj – yes, yes, yes
Boesjing – can not
Mejo – not more, no
Taikwee – too expensive
Pjenjie – cheap
Tsaisjien – goodbye
Wo poesje Megwo Wren – I am not an American
Ni Tsai Nali Wren – where do you come from?
Wo sjiegwan ni – I like you
Wo ai Ni – I love you
Wo – I
Ni – you
Wo-men – We, our
Ni-men – your
Ta-men – their
Tse-ke – this
Wo - boe jouw – I don’t want