Even though I myself am a pretty conservative eater, when dining as a guest of a Chinese client or business partner I push myself to try new dishes. To the Chinese, eating with someone is much more than “grabbing a bite to eat” as perceive it in Western culture. The Chinese savor the flavor or “ 味道” of a dish and enjoy being able to experience and savor it with a friend. I suspect it dates back to the humble beginnings of many Chinese families that migrated from the rural areas, where they often did not have money to enjoy a meal . For those from humble beginnings, like my husband, having a meal that has meat in it was a rarity during life in the rural areas. To the Chinese, can also be a sign of how one is doing in life. This is why when greeting a friend, many Chinese will ask, “你吃饭了吗?” which means, “Have you eaten yet”?
So next time you are at a business meeting with a Chinese counterpart, remember that you are not just “grabbing a bit to eat”, you are working on building your relationship with that person in what many Chinese consider to be an important activity – savoring a delicious meal with a friend.