One of the more frustrating elements with business in China is figuring out who the hell is telling the truth and who is merely feeding you a line. Mind you, I’m not saying everybody is lying. I’m just saying I was too stupid to figure out the business nuances of a 3,000 year-old market culture (Yes. Yes. Capitalism in China has existed for thousands of years. 60 years of Communism is merely a blip…so far…). When you speak to a business person in China, you will almost always be met with a courteous positive response. Whether or not action comes out of that response is entirely a different matter. There is so much deference for harmony and honour that even when they tell you to stuff it, you leave thinking that they just put in an order for two containers of your product.
So for the benefit of my readers who yearn to strike gold (possibly made from silver) in China, here is a handy guide to 10 things business people tell you that could literally mean anything. Of course this only applies to folks I’ve met personally. I’m certain all others are as solid as the goods that come out of their factories.
1. “I know somebody in the government who is influential.” He does know somebody in the government. But the other person either doesn’t know him, doesn’t care about him or loathes him for the constant name dropping. The government employs like half-a-billion people. Any random guy will know any random guy in the government. And the guy they all know always happens to be the guy just under the decision maker but never the decision maker. BS rating: 9 out of 10.
2. “1 million dollars? No problem. I can raise that.” He has no idea how to go about this. He might know a handful of wealthy people but they’re all pretty tired of his name dropping and showing them another Iphone app project. BS rating: 8 out of 10.
3. “I can make that product.” He can’t make that product. But he will go find someone who can and then agent it out. But first he will require a ‘connection’ fee. BS rating: 7 out of 10.
4. “I can get the deal done tomorrow.” He won’t even begin to think about it until three weeks later. And if a better deal came in, you may never know what the hell happened to yours. BS rating: 6 out of 10.
5. “I can get you a meeting with the head of the marketing department.” Surprisingly, he will get you the meeting. It’s just that the head of the marketing department is just coming out for some free dim sum and you can be assured a portion of your consulting fees went directly to pay for his attendance. BS rating: 5 out of 10.
6. “I understand.” He doesn’t understand. Looking dumb is akin to getting kicked in the groin so few business people will ask you to repeat yourself or provide further explanation. They’d sooner smile, nod and converse to each other about dinner plans (dudes…you seem to forget that I speak the language) rather than ask for clarification. BS rating: 4 out of 10.
7. “I have 10 factories.” He has three factories. Of course as one who doesn’t even own one factory, who am I to nitpick? Just assume any numerical measure you are given is grossed-up or grossed-down 40% depending the circumstance. BS rating: 3 out of 10
8. “Haha! I’ve never shot anyone!” This is probably true. He has probably never shot anyone. I mean, that’s why you hire people. BS rating: 2 out of 10.
9. “I have a PhD.” He does have a PhD. But since it’s likely from a school, city or province you’ve never heard about, you will have no idea how much he paid for it…excuse me.. how long he worked for it. BS rating: 1 out of 10.
10. “Let us go for a drink. There will be lots of women there.” He wants to go for a drink. There will be lots of women there. They will almost never joke about this and the planning is meticulous. Guys have been fired for not getting the boss’s guest into a pumping night club. No matter how formal the setting, how high the stakes and how much money is involved, somehow it always ends up in a bar. BS rating: 0. This is guaranteed to happen.