While the Staircase and Roller Coaster Models of cultural differences provide a foundation for understanding the two fundamental value systems between the USA and China, our culture bumps with one another are generally found in specific areas. Notice how many culture bumps can occur in the following scenarios.
Initial business contacts
Americans are comfortable meeting new people and have a high level of “public trust” with strangers who “look” right and have proper business cards. They are comfortable with introducing themselves to one another – especially in arranged business settings, trusting the organization behind the arrangement. Americans tend to smile and shake hands easily; they may or may not stand if sitting when they are introduced. Initially, they generally use Mr. Miss or Ms and the family name. Americans may move to a first name basis after the second or third meeting – or even sooner. Americans use business cards and hand them casually to many people. They take a card, say thanks and put it in a pocket; they may or may not look at it, preferring to save time and use it later for reference.
Chinese prefer to have someone as a go-betweeen to “vouch for” the business stranger. They are primarily concerned with building a relationship that they can trust. They are more formal when meeting, standing up and shaking hands. They hand and take business cards with both hands, look at it. They do not put it in a bag or pocket as this shows disrespect to the other. They place it on the table where they are seated which also helps to remember names. Chinese use their family name first and then their first name. When addressing one another, they use a title (such as manager, lawyer or professor) and the family name or family name and first name. They have many more titles to reflect the hierarchal nature of the society (think roller coaster).
Topics of Conversation
Americans are uncomfortable talking about age, money (income and costs of objects), and family in business situations. They may talk about these things if they develop a friendship outside of work. However, they are perfectly comfortable with work-related relationships only. They give and receive complements freely – saying “Thank you” when receiving a compliment. They prefer “an arm’s distance” when conversing and are particularly careful standing in lines not to get too close. They maintain careful distance in public with strangers – believing this is polite behavior. Depending on the region, they are comfortable touching one another (particularly same gender) on the shoulder in a “friendly way”. For them, it is a sign of comfort with one another. While they don’t normally talk about politics or religion, they know that some people will.
Chinese are very reluctant to give or receive a lot of praise. If they are given a complement, they will downplay their part. They are very comfortable being in close proximity to one another and even prefer to be close. They can also be very private even when being in the same room. They do not talk about politics. Religion is of much less importance than in the USA.
Americans are very careful about giving gifts – especially in business. They may hand out tokens from their business such as key chains or cups. When receiving a gift, an American opens it and makes a positive comment about it to the giver and says thank you – regardless of their real feelings. Personal gifts are inappropriate in business. They send thank you cards for both gifts and hospitality. Hosts offer hospitality to guests and are careful not to insist if the guest says no. Guests may bring sweets or wine or alcohol to a host’s home.
Chinese are very very careful about giving gifts, and give a lot of gifts in business. Frequently, these are traditional Chinese gifts such as paper cutouts or Chinese opera characters. They do not open gifts in front of the giver. The color white is associated with death as are clocks, sharp knives and scissors. Chinese decline invitations e.g. for something to drink when visiting a couple of times before accepting. Hosts continue to offer.