Tag Archives: China

LSS: Words of wisdom from across the world

Thursday night we had one of those gatherings of people around our dinner table that, for me, was a thing of beauty.

Of the eight folks at our table, we were born in five different countries. Four of us were born here in the United States of America. The other countries represented were Iran, Japan, Mexico and China.

After an hour or so of polite, but interesting chit-chat, we got into one of those rare and wonderful conversations that goes beyond pleasantries and gets to the heart of things. We started talking about the complexities of relationships, focusing most of our attentions on marriage, parent/child and siblings. The interesting part of the conversation was that while there were a few subtle cultural differences, we had all really come to most of the same conclusions about how to make things work or smooth things over. I asked my guests to consider their culture and offer insights regarding how to make relationships work.

The Cajun spoke first.

“Pick your battles,” my friend Debra Broussard Taghehchian said.

“Act like you want to do it — not like you have to,” said her daughter, Layla.

And then Debra’s husband, Saeed Taghehchian, who is from Iran, offered a Persian jewel of wisdom: “It’s a lot easier to change myself than trying to change you.”

With that one, we all gave a hearty, “Amen.”

Jiro Hatano, our friend visiting from Japan, had been quiet through much of the conversation, but with Saeed’s sage adage, Jiro grabbed his handy-dandy translator and started translating ideas and axioms from Japanese into English. With each, he would do his best to explain its meaning and context.

“His conduct betrayed his upbringing,” was the first translated from Japanese and prompted much discussion. Should the verb be betrayed or portrayed? Was Jiro trying to say the Japanese equivalent of, “He was raised to know better,” or, “Raised as he was, this is what you should expect”?

Jiro said it was the latter. Basically, you get out what you put in.

The second Japanese advice on making relationships work was: You’ll give yourself away every time you open your mouth.

In other words, keep your mouth closed whenever possible.

The third was the most difficult to translate. Jiro’s original version of the sentence was enigmatic:

Inscrutable are the ways of heaven.

After much discussion, he explained its meaning: We can’t predict the future. The way of life is changing always. If we have trouble now, that trouble could turn to happiness one day.

Jiro’s thoughts inspired another Persian insight from Saeed. The first, loosely translated is: Taking the high road sometimes requires keeping your mouth shut.

“Sometimes we say in Iran, if you don’t want to lose, don’t fight,” Saeed said.

My husband, originally from Mexico, agreed and decided it was time to enter the discussion.

“For me, it’s about managing the moment,” he said. “You can’t make your decision about how you’re going to react to one thing by thinking about the future or by thinking about the past. You’ve got to do the right thing based on the circumstances at hand. If you mind that, those moments become cumulative. It’s collecting the little pieces that make a long chain.”

And with that, we finished our sherbet and agreed that if the eight of us from such different backgrounds and family situations could find such common ground around a dinner table in Louisiana, global concord is surely within reach.

Jan Risher’s column, Long Story Short, appears Sundays. Email her at jan@janrisher.com.

LSS: Both hands full of respect

Within a few hours last week, I met three people who told me they were headed to China for business within the next few weeks. One of them knew I had been to China a couple of times and politely asked if I had any pointers.
I’ve thought about his question and my answer since, and I believe my advice for him regarding a particular Chinese custom might be beneficial on either side of the Pacific.
In the past decade, many books have been written explaining the finer points of making the best impression in meeting and working with the Chinese. My limited information only scratches the surface, and is based more on personal observation than anything else. I am not for a moment suggesting that my insights compare to those with encyclopedic knowledge. However, there is one thing I believe visitors to China can do that may make a world of difference in their experience there—and translating the intent of that custom could make a difference here, as well.
My piece of advice is really very simple. Exchanging business cards is a big deal in China. Learning Chinese business card etiquette will go a long way.
Firstly, anyone planning on doing business in China or with the Chinese should create double-sided business cards—one side in English and one side in Simplified Chinese, but the real protocol is in making the exchange.
When you accept a business card or hand a business card to someone, you should face the person you’re making the exchange with and use both hands to deliver and use both hands to accept the card.
Using both hands is a sign of respect.
Following the exchange, both parties are expected to study the business cards they’ve just accepted for a moment and then place them on the table beside them, if they’re sitting down for a meeting. Stuffing it into a purse or pocket is frowned upon.
As I understand things, in China, haphazardly reaching out with one hand to grab something from one person, while you’re talking with someone else, would be considered the height of rudeness. While I’m certain there are countless other points of Chinese etiquette and protocol that a more enlightened and educated person could share, that one point made an impression on me.
In fact, even though I haven’t been back to China in nearly eight years, I think about that point almost every day. Nothing about it comes naturally to me. But it’s about giving my whole focus to the person I’m interacting with—and demonstrating that focus physically.
Using both hands in the business card exchange requires a different kind of concentration than most Americans are accustomed to offering. Why would we do something with two hands when it only takes one?
And, I think that’s the whole point.
Taking that extra energy and time to pay attention to someone new slows down the exchange and, in my opinion, improves a rhythm that is all too often rushed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not insisting, or even proposing, that everyone should start using two hands to make business card exchanges. However, I do believe taking extra time and focusing our energy, attention and respect on the people we meet and greet might go a long way in laying the groundwork for improved relations wherever we are.