I was accompanying two colleagues to China for a factory inspection. We arrived in Beijing on a very warm summer afternoon and our Chinese hosts promptly took us to lunch. Not surprisingly our host ordered beer for everyone, it being the local custom in summer to drink beer at lunch. Drinking is also a way of breaking the ice with overseas customers. It is a very important custom when doing business in China. In America, however, people do not normally drink at lunch and for this reason my two colleagues refused any beer despite the entreaties of our host. I also had to decline because one of the individuals was my superior. Our host was visibly disappointed and needless to say he also had to pay for the beer, about ten bottles, which just sat on the table throughout the meal. To add insult to injury when the waitress put ice into a glass of Coca Cola one of my colleagues questioned whether the ice had been made with bottled water or tap water. She did not want ice made with tap water. The message this sent to our host was; "water in China is dirty and not drinkable." This did not go unnoticed by either the vendor or several people from his office who were also present. Needless to say, this was not a good start to the trip. What my colleagues had forgotten was that they were no longer in the United States.

When you go to China you have to be prepared to observe local customs -even if it means going against your own - and you should at no point show any disrespect to the Chinese by commenting on how dirty things are, or how different things are in China from your own country. Remember that sometimes you need the vendor to take an extra step for you. They are more inclined to do this if they feel you respect Chinese culture and customs.