Thursday, October 9, 2008

Signiciant people get significant treatment

Last night I accompanied my bf to a company dinner at the Shangri-La Suzhou. I've never been there before, although since I had heard great things about the food at the Shangri-La in Shanghai, I had high expectations. And, I wasn't disappointed. The food WAS indeed good! What wasn't so good, however, was the fact that our table was located beneath some violent sort of air con, who constantly pumped out cold air on us (despite the fact that the temperature outside wasn't very high). So much for putting on a fancy dress and making an effort. We all ate wearing our jackets on! I was very disappointed at the staff at the hotel. We told them about 15 times about the air con, and no one did anything about it. They just stood there, about 10 of them, musing at us in our jackets, asking if we wanted some more wine (like, when are staff that are working at five star hotels in China going to learn what is important?!) So as a result of sitting under cold air for 2.5 hours, I now have a runny nose and a stiff neck. Do I need to mention that I am furious?! I have just gotten well after a 2 weeks of the most lingering flu, and now my nose is back to running... ahhhhh it is just so frustrating?! There goes my training for the half-marathon and preparing for the university 3000m race. Good food or bad food, that was the last time I visited the Shangri-La hotel.

Anyways, a funny thing I noticed on this company dinner (which included all the highest people of the company, a lot of them coming from overseas) was how I was greeted at the Chinese staff from the local office when I walked in: they saw that I was simply a girlfriend to their work mate, and therefore no one bothered to even shake hands with me (they just glanced at my dress for a bit). After me came the daughter of the CEO, who everybody swarmed around. Ah.... isn't it just so... hilarious?!!! Chinese people must be the least discrete people that I know, they are so obvious about their actions! Insignificant person walks in: don't bother. Significant person walks in: shake hands, be nice, make small talk. I don't think I'd ever have the guts to even act like that. To me it is just common courtesy to shake hands with everybody at a dinner table.

I have had this treatment in China so many times though, that I definitely don't take offense. Especially when I worked at a local magazine in Shanghai and often went to openings, events, and you name it, this was a standard. The Chinese people at the events would ignore me, and simply focus on my editor or our magazine owner. Not until any of those two introduced me, or mentioned my responsibilities, would I get some polite attention. Chinese hierarchy. Very obvious. Very 'in your face.'

10 comments:

WoAi said...

A couple of things. First Shangri-La, even in SH the service was disappointing even though the hotel itself is lovely. Standard hardware vs software case (the hardware is top rate, software below standard). I would have asked to speak with the general manager.

And yes, in China status is everything. When the big boss walks in everyone is fawning over him or her, making flattering remarks about his or her appearance, etc etc. So much for socialism and everyone is equal!

It's not just in the work place. I've been introduced to Chinese people and got very cold responses which warmed up suddenly when they realise I am from England and not a local - suddenly the status elevates a few notches, although still not quite as high status as white skinned people from England!

Anonymous said...

That's Asians for you. I find Asians in asia are materialistic and shallow (not all, but most). There is a motive behind their actions, hence that they were surrounding the ceo's daughter.

Jonna Wibelius said...

woai -I'm not good at asking for the GM. Maybe I should take a course to learn how to complain. I'm the typical 'suffer in silence and then complain about it to other people' person... My own bad! On rare occasions I speak up and them I am always positively surprised of the result. (note to self: remember this next time u r sitting under an air con!!!)

I haven't actually experience that I get more attention/kind greetings just because I am (and look) western. Lao wai or not, it is still all about titles. At least I felt so when I was working at the local paper.

On the other hand, u can definitely get away with more when u've got white skin and blond hair in China. I don't know how many times I have travelled with a train ticket that has already expired. The ticket guy sees it, although he cannot be bothered to throw me off the train.

wancestyle said...

Jonna - Great post as always. Status, hierarchy and title matter a lot in China. However, you might have gotten a cold response even if you were in a non-business dinner (where status is not a discriminating factor). Most of Chinese do not follow our basic courtesy rules (i.e. introducing yourself to a stranger, shaking hands, etc.). Once I was at my friend's birthday dinner. We were about 10 people sitting at the table. At some point, my friend's brother arrived with his wife. However, they just sat there without saying "Hi" or introducing themselves to the rest of the group (of course they did not even apologize for being half n' hour late!). When we left, I still did not manage to know their names (not that I cared anyway!). And this happened in 'cosmopolitan' Shanghai, not some remote Chinese countryside. HILARIOUS!

zhou said...

very sad but that's true, welcome to new china..
i think ppl simply go to the other extreme after the economy reform in 1978, it was totally different in the communist era.. nowadays being poor is considered a shame and any means to pursue fortune is acceptable and appreciated.
i very much agreed with the "materialistic and shallow" description, although sad indeed.

zhou said...

wancestyle: the chinese ppl always say ppl in the country side are more warm-hearted, sincere and frank than city ppl

Bill said...

That's why I always us a lower rank title when asked so that I can sit quietly and listen. No one will come to bother me, and I can concentrate on the food. When someone recognize me and try to introduce others, I quickly step out of the lime light and move on. Needing a very special drink from the bar is a very good excuse.

Able to pick who you really want to talk to and not waste time must be the top priority in these settings.

emil said...

That is why I got myself a really fancy title that I actually cannot read or pronounce, but it is really something. Or at least is what everyone says.

But I always tell me I am older than I am, otherwise they would treath me different, as I am to young to hang around at "important" business meetings.

It is a love hate thing I guess. Some stuff in chinese business is just plain stupid. So you just got to exploit it.

alan said...

So this means you have never seen bronw-nosers and ass-kissers in the west .. I THINK NOT ... please stop comparing China with your western colored glasses ... this happens everywhere in the world...

And tell me .. what should be the priorites of the staff at a 5-sar hotel and it is really only Chinese staff at 5-star hotels that don't make you happy??

They probbably did not know what ot do because (1) all the tables are full and you were assigned to sit at that one and (2) the AIR CON is out of their control and/or (3) they are tired of hearing western people bitch and moan about everything

Jonna Wibelius said...

Eh, Alan, dear... I have only experienced those totally obvious kiss-ass situations here in China, so sure.. it might happen all over the world. But this is a blog about China and therefore I write about what I experience HERE. Besides, what might be your daily bread might be a novelty to me. I come from Sweden, and you obviously don't. In Sweden what happened at this resto would never occur.

Finally, stop telling me what I should write and not write about. This is my blog -if you don't like it then why bother reading it?! As a Swedish person I NEVER EVER complain in restos, so the fact that I did this time (about the aircon) is strange itself... the fact that they kept the aircon on (no, the resto wasn't full) is even stranger though. All the staff standing in a line all nite couldn't bother to turn the aircon off.. hm.. well yeah, that I call pure ignorance! Mind me, we are all different. Obviously that would have been totally fine for you, although u probably wouldn't have been wearing a little black dress so u probably wouldn't have been as cold as me...

Stop looking at my blog though your judgmental glasses.