The second in an on-going series Red_Wine_Glassof blogs from our friends who recently started working in China. Sounds like a lot of fun, I think. Before we get too far into the year I thought I would issue a warning before I forget. In my first week of work, I got to go to a Conference for all of the teachers who work for the Company. It is a big induction conference for those who have just arrived and on-going development for those who have been here a while. Upwards of 500 people attend and the main conference is held in an enormous school by day with a very large hotel booked nearby for delegates.

Friday night is the Conference dinner and I discover that I was on the ‘top’ table (they are all round) with the senior managers and various dignitaries. The food is Chinese and is set out little by little on a rotating platform in the centre of the table. To this end you have to be both quick, before the dish you want passes you by, and proficient with chopsticks so that you can pick up a piece of food as it is moving around at moderate speed. Not easy to serve yourself soup in this way!

I noticed when we first sat down that there were cans of Chinese beer on the table and the smallest amount of red wine in a wine glass for each guest. I assumed that this was because wine was expensive and so had to be sipped slowly. However, a little more wine arrived in a small jug set by each plate, not overly generous but when all tipped in to the glass more or less filled it up to a decent level.

After a little polite eating and chatting, the really important people started to get up and circulate, being introduced to people and saying nice things through an interpreter, the custom is to say nice things back. They then say ‘Gan Bei’ (loosely translated as cheers and pronounced ‘gan bay’ ) and drink from the glass they are carrying around with them. The toasting has to be worked out as they put their glass lower than yours to show that you are an important guest. You in turn try to lower your glass to show that they are more important than you. All very amicable. My third ‘Gan Bei’ was with my boss, who was introducing me to a Chinese lady of importance. We all said nice things and then ‘Gan Bei’. I took a sip of my wine, congratulating myself on how well I was doing to figure all this stuff out.

It was at this point that my boss pointed out that I was not doing ‘Gan Bei’ properly. ‘Gan Bei’, he told me, means that you drain your glass so the whole thing must be drunk down in one! It was at this point that the light came on and I realised why the tiny amount of wine in the glass and the small jug to top it up with the next tiny amount. Apparently, the literal translation is ‘dry the cup’!

I can tell you that the evening was enjoyable but messy! You do not want to be drunk in front of your boss and the owner of the Company in your first week. By 9.00 pm I was safely tucked up in bed. Still a little jet lagged but mainly from too much wine consumed too quickly. Let that be a lesson to you if you have to socialise in China!


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