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Northern Territory

China In Touch

30 October 2012


As someone who has traveled to China before it is always good to have a refresher course on just how little you know about working within the Chinese environment. The China Table Manners Luncheon held on Sunday 22nd was just on such experience. First off its great to be a part of an organization who has the obvious respect of Government ministers and the general business community. The lunch was attended by Chief Minister Mills, the Minister for Mines and Energy and the Minister for Trade. It was covered by NHK TV (Japan) as an example of how Australia is improving Australia China relations.

One of the major objectives of the ACBC Luncheon is to show its members that the type of Chinese food we get here in Darwin is nothing like the Chinese food we will get in northern China. The majority of Chinese food we get is Cantonese/Hong Kong style and tends to be much sweeter. This is part of the reason why westerners like this style of cooking as it more closely matches our own eating habits.

However once you get north of Shanghai and closer to Beijing the tastes of the food changes. It uses much less sugar and tends to be more sour. As was shown throughout the lunch this is only a minor change however it is these minor differences in taste and table manner behaviours that can really help make or break a business deal.

The presenter was Daryl Guppy, President of the NT ACBC. Once again Daryl provided us all with an energetic, funny but educational experience that none of us will forget any time soon. He was full of first had experience of the do’s and don’ts to help demonstrate how it was the subtle differences in the dining habits of north and south that differentiated you from the crowd. These included things as simple as the seating order at the table. Are you the guest, the host or further down the food chain. Leaving the table to blow your nose after eating and incredibly spicy dish or walking your guest all the way to their car rather than standing at the door and waving. These small seemingly inconsequential gestures have secured his own business deals while witnessing others fall through the cracks because of them.

Mines and Energy Minister, Westra van Holthe, ACBC NT President, Guppy, NT Chief Minister Mills. Daryl’s unique humour when dealing with the topic of alcohol consumption allowed one member of my table to point out, ”I’ve done that….and that…oh god and that too.” The light heartiness of the presentation allowed everyone to openly admit the mistakes they had made but more importantly showcased how they could be improved upon. It was noted at the end of the event that not a single person had ordered any alcohol. Further evidence that you did not need to have alcohol during a meal in order to have a good time, and more importantly in order to do good business.

Another point that Daryl brought to light was that dinners or lunches were not times to do business. These were times for people to get to know each other. Daryl went through several conversational topics that could help us when faced with the problem of small talk. These included ‘where do you come from’, as China has a very migrant population from the country side into the major cities. It is quiet often that the person you are talking too is not from the city in which you are sitting and they will be more than happy to tell you about where they come from and how they go where they are today.

Asking about any interesting places to visit during your stay is another good option. China has over 5 thousands years of continual history, there will be several places of interest to visit. With this question however as Daryl pointed out there may be the offer to show you around. This is a good step forward on the path to good business relations and you should accept. The third is asking about their aspirations for their children, however you need to be careful around this topic regarding the one child policy. We were told as a rule to use common sense regarding political standpoints and policy.

Overall the experience was a fantastic one. Everyone who attended the event seemed to have nothing but great things to say about the food, the content and the presenter. It is obvious to all who attended that what was taught during the lunch is valuable information that we will not be able to get anywhere else. It is a service that the NT ACBC provides for its members to help them secure the investment or business they want in China. I’m sure everyone would like to thank Daryl and his team for putting on the event and we hope to have more of the same soon.

The success of the event very much depended on the organisation and logistics groundwork done by Lisa O’Donoghue.

From Alexander O’Malley.