So you’ve got a job in China. It’s a brand new opportunity that’s no doubt pretty scary and pretty exciting.
No matter how qualified you are or how hard you work, there are some important things you need to know.
Here are 8 survival tips for your first job in China.
1. Speak Chinese
Whether you’re completely new to the language or have been studying for years, always make an effort to speak a little Chinese at your first job in China.
You may not be able to use it directly for your work, but even if you just use it for small talk, pleasantries, and a greeting here or there, your local colleagues will appreciate the effort.
Furthermore, try to avoid using your colleagues as some kind of crutch for your lack of Chinese.
While they will no doubt be happy to help on occasion, they are not there to order your food, call you a DiDi, or speak to your landlord on a daily basis.
2. Eat and drink like a local
In most jobs in China, there will be plenty of opportunities to join your colleagues for lunch, dinner or even evening karaoke sessions. Chances are you’re going to be eating some local cuisine.
Again, like with the language, your colleagues will appreciate it if you at least try their dishes.
This may be easier said than done, depending on if you’re eating relatively safe Cantonese dim sum or insanely spicy Sichuan hot pot, but try to be open-minded.
Also, if the others are drinking, join in for a few gan beis of beer.
I suggest that it’s best to politely refuse if the bai jiu appears on the table, however. You don’t want to get too drunk and lose face!
3. Respect nap time
Perhaps surprisingly, one of the biggest cultural differences you’ll notice at your first job in China is that almost everyone takes a nap at lunchtime.
While you’re not obliged to sleep too, you should respect others’ right to do so.
If you‘re in the same room as those who are sleeping, avoid talking and making phone calls, and use headphones if listening to music or watching videos.
Chinese people are known for working very long hours, so your colleagues probably need all the extra sleep they can get.
4. Join team-building exercises
Chinese companies, in general, are pretty big on team-building exercises.
These can be anything from a sports day in the nearby gym to visiting local landmarks, to full-blown holidays abroad (if you’re lucky).
Some activities are bound to sound more appealing than others but, regardless, try to join them all.
Even if you want to do something else with your free time, non-attendance sends all sorts of wrong messages to your boss and colleagues.
5. Work overtime on occasion
The fact is that most jobs in China involve some sort of overtime.
It might be coming in on a Saturday morning once a school term or regularly working evenings at a tech company.
As a foreigner, you can sometimes avoid the brunt of overtime, as it’s not unusual for Chinese bosses to feel uncomfortable extracting extra unpaid hours from foreigners in the same way they do with locals.
However, it can be bad for team morale if you’re the only one going home on time every day.
That’s not to say you should work overtime all the time, but every now and then when work is busy or there’s a deadline to meet, staying a little later will be appreciated by your team.
6. Be humble
Being humble is pretty good advice for life in general, but especially in your first China job.
While in the West, well-earned praise or compliments are usually accepted, in China, it’s expected that praise is met with modesty, even if it’s false modesty.
If someone praises your work, look to credit those who helped you achieve it.
Even if someone just compliments you in general, laugh it off as not true.
Also, note that it’s common in Chinese to refer to people as handsome or beautiful, so don’t get too excited or concerned if this kind of comment comes your way.
7. Be discreet
Again, good advice for life in general, but being discrete also serves a particular purpose in your first China job.
The Chinese workplace tends to be a lot less frank than its Western counterpart.
It’s rare to criticize or contradict colleagues in front of peers and it’s an absolute no-no to go against the manager or boss, especially in public.
When you start your first job in China, you might be able to identify some inefficiencies or pain points. Just make sure you deliver your feedback in the right way, or it may backfire.
8. Avoid playing foreigner card
What all these points are getting at is you should avoid playing the foreigner card in your new job.
Colleagues may be willing to give you special treatment and you might be able to get away with more than a local in terms of skirting over time, but going against the grain is not a sustainable way to go about your work life.
Such an attitude will foster bad habits and may stunt your career growth in China.
So keep that foreigner card firmly up your sleeve.
Who knows? There might come a time when you really have to play it.