A few weeks ago I have already written about China’s drinking culture. After being out for dinner with a bunch of old Chinese men yesterday, it reminded me again how much I hate people around me smoking.
For every smoker, China is a paradise. For people like me, however, China can turn into a nightmare.
I am a non-smoker, living in a country which is the world’s largest consumer and producer of tobacco, producing about 2.3 trillion cigarettes annually, which is 40 percent of the world’s total.
Hongkong implemented a sever anti-smoking law in 2007, and even though the Chinese government tried to follow suit by launching a campaign to ban smoking indoors at the beginning of this year, smoking is still very much alive in Mainland China (even indoors in public places!).
But apart from my personal despise for smoking, it is important to understand the significance cigarettes still have in China’s daily social life. Especially for people who come to China to do business.
Cigarettes as a common form of greeting and introduction
No matter if it is a family gathering or an important business dinner, my husband always takes a pack of cigarettes with him. It is common for Chinese men to offer a cigarette as a greeting when first arriving at a place or meeting someone for the first time. Throughout a dinner, cigarettes are offered. People smoking, blowing the smoke in your face while you are eating, is a very common thing in China. Considered very rude in Germany, to light a cigarette during dinner time without prior asking the other people if it is ok, in China no one cares.
There is a chance that you will be stuck in one of those separate private rooms in a restaurant, confined within four walls and no window, and mostly smoking men. You should be prepared. As a guy there is no chance to decline the friendly offer of a cigarette without making the other person lose face (or think “what an arrogant foreigner”). So, if someone walks up to you, with a pack of cigarettes in his hands, offering you one, simply take one, smile, say thank you, and put it on the table or in your pocket “for later”. Usually they also offer you to help you light your cigarette, so you can always say you are keeping it for later.
It is definitely easier for girls. Even though, once in a while Chinese men will offer me a cigarette (thinking I am one of those very “open-minded” Western girls), I can simply decline and won’t be bothered again. Compared to one third of Chinese men who smoke, just 4% of the women smoke.
In the small town I live, smoking women are still rarely seen, and less socially accepted as in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai. However, apparently the number of female smokers is on the rise since women became the main target of tobacco firms.
What cigarette brand you smoke determines your social status
If cigarettes are used for social occasions, to introduce yourself and do proper networking, it is no far reach to say that what kind of brand you smoke will determine your economic worth and your social status.
Fortunately for us, we never had to go to any meetings where it was necessary to take out the 800RMB pack of cigarettes, but I know out of experience that if you want to make a good impression at the next business dinner, you should not be stingy with the choice of cigarette brand you buy. If you are the CEO of a huge company, and you turn up to a dinner with an 8 RMB pack of cigarettes, you can be sure the gossip will be enormous, and maybe one of the nicer colleagues will suggest that someone in your position should make a better appearance. In other words: Stop being so cheap.
I am no cigarette expert, and I don’t strive to be one, but interestingly there are cigarettes called Huang He Lou 黄鹤楼 in China which cost as much as 8500RMB per carton. I cannot imagine anyone paying that kind of money for something ruining your health, but well, who am I to judge.
Anyhow, before coming to China you should be prepared. I do not support the traditional Chinese “smoking culture”, but living here gives me no choice, as to at least try to understand, and quietly accept. My husband does not smoke, and has done a great job in avoiding smoking without letting anyone lose face.
So, if you are a smoker and come to China, congratulations, you will love it here.
If you are a non-smoker, well, be polite, take the cigarette, put it away and ignore it.
Did you experience China’s “smoking culture”? What is your opinion? Should we just wildly refuse, even though knowing it is a significant part of social behavior?
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