If you’ve just landed your first job in China, congratulations! You’ve now got a whole lot to learn. One of the first aspects of Chinese workplace culture you’ll come across is that of lunch break etiquette. It generally differs widely from the West, so take note and use your China lunch time wisely.
The First Day
It’s pretty standard for a boss to take a new hire for lunch on the first day. It may be just you and him/her, or it may be the whole team. What’s pretty certain, however, is that it will be a fairly upmarket place and there will be plenty of food, as they’ll want to impress you and give you a good welcome. First of all, brush up on your Chinese table manners. Secondly, don’t try and cram too much into your first day, as this may take a while. Thirdly, don’t even think about trying to pay. The most important person at the table will pick up the bill, and obviously that isn’t you!
Eating With Colleagues
Similar lunches with the boss will pop up from time to time, requiring you to drop all other plans and follow suit. On regular days, however, you’re likely to see colleagues splitting into smaller groups to eat lunch. They’ll probably to ask if you want to come with them when you first start. Say yes, even if you’d rather sulk away on your own, or they’ll be reluctant to ask you again. Even if you don’t speak Chinese and your colleagues don’t speak English, regularly taking lunch with them will hugely enrich your experience of working in a Chinese office and stop you looking and feeling like an outsider.
Most Chinese offices have a set hour when everyone goes for lunch. It can be pretty early, even before 12 noon so workers can “beat the crowds” (it doesn’t work). Chinese workplaces will differ, but most of the time you’ll be expected to take the whole hour. If you’d like to work through lunch or just take half an hour and leave half an hour earlier, this should be discussed with your boss first.
Eating At Your Desk
Again, rules on eating at your desk will vary in Chinese businesses. Many offices will have a microwave in the corner, but make sure you figure out what others are doing before you stomp in and break the system. Some offices have a separate space for workers to eat food they brought in themselves, while others will be fine about you eating at your desk. If you want to be extra considerate, which of course you do, pay some mind to the smells you fill the office with. There are certain foods that Chinese people find gross, so think about that before you fire up the fondue.
Unless the boss has invited you out for lunch, it’s absolutely fine for you to run errands in your lunch hour. If you think whatever you need to do might take longer than an hour, however, it’s best to leave it until after work or give your boss fair warning if it really can’t wait. If your lunch hour runs over, apologize and offer to make up the time at the end of the day.
It’s not uncommon for Chinese office workers to wolf down their food and then spend the rest of their lunch hour napping at their desks. If you’re the sort of person who can do this, go ahead and join them as long as you’re sure it’s allowed. Don’t forget to set an alarm so you don’t sleep over though, as your colleagues might be too polite to wake you!
If you work in sales or a job that requires you to wine and dine clients from time to time, you’ve probably already negotiated an expenses account with your Chinese employer. If not, make sure you know the boundaries before you go crazy on the lobster and Champagne. Some bosses may, for example, expect you to buy a couple of coffees out of your own pocket, and/or have a threshold on how much you can spend.
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