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Turning down drink without causing loss of face?


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insighter

Sorry this is a bit off topic, but the question just begs asking with the shear number of 中国通 on here; is refusing cigarettes pretty accepted now-a-days? It seems ok refusing middle class people, but when meeting poor farmers and truck drivers it seems a bit awkward to me. It was never a problem in the north, but now that I'm in the south(west) I get offered every time I go out, even getting multiple offers from the same person throughout the night.

I don't smoke and I relented once last New Years Eve and it....was...terrible. Basically ended up smoking boxes of the things.

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realmayo
Is Wuhan "down south"?

Certainly: go north one province to Henan and you'll see the difference.

I don't think northern China can be a "bigger issue" than in the Czech Republic, Brazil during Carnaval, Germany in late September, France when offered wine, etc. A dinner in northern China as a "completely different social situation" can't hold a candle to these situations.

I misunderstood: I thought this was your first visit to China. But it seems that you know much more about living in the country than, say, Imron does.

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li3wei1

On the cigarette issue, when I was in Taiwan, one of the few phrases of Taiwanese I knew was 'I don't smoke'. They offer cigarettes, I whip out my phrase, and they are instantly distracted by the concept of a white person speaking Taiwanese and they start teaching me more. Cigarettes forgotten.

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realmayo

I get the feeling offering cigarettes plays (played?) a bigger and more accepted part of social interation in China than in the west and where there are difficulties in free conversation it's a handy prop for the Chinese person to fall back on: he might think it's hard to use spoken language to communicate friendship blah blah, but hopes to get the message across by offering you a cigarette again. Of course, that doesn't address the question of what you're communicating by declining! :mrgreen:

I found that saying (truthfully as it happens) that I smoked for ages but finally managed to quit a few years ago, works perfectly. Hopefully it doesn't come across too snooty.

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li3wei1

There's also the fact that you're giving the other person something, making it a shadow of a bribe. It's a way of establishing that you're not above a bit of giving and taking to smooth the way, and it can lead to further discussions. Especially if the brand of cigarette is an especially expensive one, and you happen to have a few cartons in your car, etc. It's harder to completely reject a request by someone who's just given you a cigarette.

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icebear
Don't make it an issue and it won't be one. I brush it off every time everywhere, and people get over it and talk about something else.

As imron identified (you should really read post #30 carefully), on the train with strangers is a very different social situation than at a formal dinner or the like. Also, your approach of "I'm fine" is indeed easy enough to pull off in most of Europe, including Poland, the Czech Republic, and other reputed drunk havens. In those countries one usually has a drink in hand already and merely gesturing to that is enough to fend off any push for more drinks for the time being.

That isn't how it works in China, where mini-shots of baijiu or beer are the norm at certain types of dinners and a drink in hand isn't a good excuse. I'd venture to say that you haven't really been in that situation yet in China; if you had you would know that no matter how confident or polite your refusal, it causes a major loss of face for the host in the eyes of his other guests and can make the remainder of the experience, with ad infinitum toasts that you are goaded at, very awkward.

Note that I'm not berating you for having a no drinking policy - I think it's perfectly fine to refuse drinks, and the allergies story does indeed seem to be the most functional and reliable. I'm just stating that the fact that it has worked so far isn't necessarily because of your confidence, but rather just the people you are [not] drinking with. [That should be taken as some sort of compliment of the random company you keep.]

Regarding cigarrettes, usually refusing is fine. If the guy is insistent, I'd suggest taking it and tucking it above your ear and mention that you don't feel like smoking at the moment. This saves face for him and also gives you a good excuse for refusing more later from other people ("I have one already, thanks").

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irishpolyglot

@realmayo Translating "I don't think" to "you know much more" is quite the jump. Please be sensible.

A downright refusal to drink can indeed create an awkward situation. This is why I suggest taking advantage of people's lack of focus, and using your strength as a clear thinking sober person to take control of the situation in a psychologically effective way. I've got almost two decades of practice at this (in Ireland the peer pressure starts when you're 12), and human nature is human nature in every culture ;) Indeed I don't "know much more" than people here about China, but don't dismiss the Irish guy who doesn't drink so quickly... I could write a book about socialising in places filled with beer while not drinking.

Right now I'm in Qingdao (just got in), so I'm sure my abilities to turn down beer from the Chinese will be tested!

For cigarettes, I not only tell people that I'm asthmatic, but I show them my inhaler, which I always have on me - it kills that any possible nagging immediately. If I wasn't asthmatic, but didn't want to smoke in a smoky country, I would consider getting an inhalor anyway considering how effictive it is. Although icebear's suggestion of tucking the cigarette in your ear is really clever!

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realmayo

irishpolyglot, I don't know if your posts overlapped but icebear has it dead-on with the formal (& formal-ish) dinners. But if you don't have any of those I'm sure you'll be fine.

Another issue is that often people are drinking with the expectation and intention of getting drunk, leading to people mutually letting-down their guard and relaxing the nature of their relations. So the issue is less that the non-drinker isn't drinking and more that he won't be drunk any time soon. Perhaps some people are wary of dealing with "a clear thinking sober person" while they themselves are pissed out of their minds.

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renzhe
A dinner in northern China as a "completely different social situation" can't hold a candle to these situations.

Don't underestimate it.

If you don't drink with your boss, colleagues and especially business partners -- your career is over, essentially. You won't land good deals, you won't get promoted, you won't have good guanxi. You were not in this situation.

If it's an informal situation, then yeah, it doesn't matter any more than it does anywhere else. I don't drink, and politely explaining this has worked so far. But I'm aware that I wouldn't have it easy building a career in China.

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Meng Lelan
I whip out my phrase, and they are instantly distracted by the concept of a white person speaking Taiwanese and they start teaching me more. Cigarettes forgotten.

Wow that is a really awesome approach to declining to smoke! You got a language lesson instead of a cigarette.

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