I discovered the hard way that I don’t like natto. Fermented soy beans are only good when buried deep in other flavors. Eaten alone I grimace which is not a good look on me. And figuring out how to spit something out without embarrassing the host is an art form. That, my friends, is what the combo “cough/napkin to face” move is all about.
Overall, the food experience in asia is a good one, assuming that you like fish and savory flavors. It is important to embrace the food since this is a very important part of the relationship experience. Think about it this way:
1. Asian dining involves eating raw fish – Open up and listen to the words and actions around you. The most basic decisions such as where others are sitting around a table, will clue you in on status. What is not said is as important as what is said. Pay attention to the raw data.
2. Eating takes a long time – Embrace the process as you negotiate. If results are what you want the best outcome will only happen with full appreciation of the dance leading up to the bow at the end. Look for a mutual win.
3. Sharing dishes is common – Give and take is part of a successful process. The asian partners I’ve worked with have moved toward western culture and style as the relationship matures. Each person will change and the optimal outcome is a compromise and realization that there is indeed synergy.
4. Ordering is often done by the host – Try not to do all of the leading. Stand back and let your partner take a leadership role to get the balance of ownership shifted. I’ve found that if the western culture side of the table dominates there is more resistance to change.
5. One pours drinks for fellow diners not for yourself – Again, the relationship is key. Be very aware of what is in it for the other side of the table (and usually they are all on the other side of the table; no mixing it up except when dining). Know how your partner is measured. Find your common ground.
6. The best french food I’ve eaten was in Japan – Asia is changing rapidly. It is not the same as it was a decade ago. Don’t assume that it is. The global nature of business has impacted every nation to some extent. Realize that as you are trying to understand your partner, they are doing the same with you and probably have a much better understanding. Western culture is splashed all over the entertainment and fashion world. They see us better than we see them.
Enjoy the food and recognize the patterns.