As many of you know, drinking is an important relationship-building activity in many cultures and can be a great way to bond with your colleagues. In China and Japan, drinking is serious business and it’s likely your host will offer you something potent. The pressure to over-participate can sometimes be overwhelming. After all, you’re an outsider in a foreign culture and you want to be gracious to your hosts by accepting all they offer.
Women do have a little more leeway in situations where drinking is the bond. “Women are not typically expected to keep up with their male colleagues,” says Barry Spaulding, “so there will be less pressure on you than your male counterparts.” This may comes as a relief to those who are not interested in doing several shots of baiji, but women are not completely off the hook when it comes to drinking across cultures.
If you don’t have a health or moral reason not to drink, it’s recommended that you try a little of what your host offers. If you want to participate but can’t drink much, it’s a good idea to say “I can’t drink much” and drink a smaller amount. “This makes you look like a good sport and shows them you are a grateful guess,” says Spaulding. As a woman, it won’t be necessary to drain the glass but if you’re not going to imbibe much, a good tactic is to make it seem more special and show great appreciation when you take a drink. It’s also a nice touch if you make your own toast at the beginning or end of the evening, either to thank your hosts or to congratulate your team on a successful endeavor.
For some women, drinking is simply not an option and that’s okay too. You can state up front that you won’t be drinking. If you want, you may use a real or made-up health reason which usually eliminates any protests. Teetotalers can even designate “drinking proxies” to drink in their place.
In China and Japan, women traditionally drink less than men but that doesn’t mean they are not expected to indulge at least a little. For this reason, it’s prudent to prepare yourself before your visit by learning something about the culture and its libations. This will help you avoid unpleasant surprises and make the best choices for yourself.
Photo credit: The Guardian