About a month ago, I got an email from Billy saying that his manager wanted me to be the host for the annual EF end of year party. I was really touched that I was considered to be a host and thought it would be a great opportunity to meet other people within the company.
About a week later I received a call from another EF center’s manager saying, “Can you meet this Wednesday for our group rehearsal?”Rehearsal? What? Am I going to be dancing or something? I started to wonder what this whole hosting thing really meant.
When I arrived for rehearsal I was given a small thick packet with all the lines to be memorized. I thought we were going to have a few drinks, some appetizers and call it a night. I was wrong. This was a black tie sit down evening with a stage and too many LED lights to count.
A few nights prior, I had picked out what I thought would be the perfect dress for a hostess. It was a simple but elegant black and white dress with a gold belt.
When I arrived at the meeting, there was my co-host, Kobe, and two other members of the party planning committee. At that point it was time to ask exactly what this whole hosting thing entailed. My Chinese co-host replied, “well we are going to be on a stage in front of 600 people.” Oh, ok. Casual. I quickly learned that his party was more like the Oscars and less like a casual cocktail party.
The whole awards ceremony was to be done in English and Chinese with the Chinese co-host saying the Chinese and Matthew and I translating into English. We quickly went through the rehearsal and then the three Chinese women in the room asked me, “WHAT COLOR IS YOUR DRESS?!!” I put that sentence in caps in order to demonstrate how eager they were to see my dress. I nervously pulled out my phone to show them a picture while realizing that my dress probably wasn’t nice enough. I wish there was someone in the room to take a picture of their faces when I showed them the dress. Their smiles turned into concerned looks. There was silence. In typical Chinese fashion, the women didn’t say anything so I finally broke the silence and asked, “Do I need to get a nicer dress?” One of the woman said and I quote, “Your dress needs more bling.” Hearing those words come out of a Chinese person’s mouth is pretty priceless.
So my next task was to find a dress that would be suitable .( little side note, suitable is one of the words Chinese ESL learners use time and time again to describe things so while it may not be funny to you, it is to me.) One of my co-workers suggested going to a wedding studio to rent a dress instead of buying a very expensive one. So I headed to a few studios to try one some dresses and I liked all these dresses until I looked at the price. Renting a dress for 200 USD? No, thank you. After trying on many dresses I settled on a nice Chinese red dress at a little boutique shop. I negotiated the price and the owner through in some bling.Ｉknew my Chinese co-hosts would be happy.
Fast-forward a week and the day of the party arrived. The hosts were supposed to arrive four hours before the party in order to go through rehearsal. I couldn’t believe how amazing everything looked. There was a huge stage, red carpets everywhere , fresh flowers, LED lights and even make up artists standing on the sidelines. I felt like I was at the Oscars.
While I was very nervous before the awards stared, once it got going I realized how much fun it was! Perhaps the most interesting part of the evening was the view from the stage. And by that I mean I was able to see how different the Westerners looked from the Chinese. It was clear that every single Chinese employee made this event to be a red carpet one. Women were wearing gowns and men were wearing tuxedos or very nice suits. It was also clear that every Westerner was not clear that it was a gown/black tie event, (a casualty of indirect Chinese communication.) Whereas the Chinese employees were decked to the nines and taking lots of picture, the foreign employees were asking, ” Where is the free alcohol?”
My CGM (Center General Manger) and I often talk about the differences between Chinese and American culture. He spent six years living in the states so he is pretty knowledgable on the topic. A few days after the party we were talking and he said , “Chinese people like a good performance, and that can be applied to many realms of life. They also think of things in terms of money. ” China, and especially large tier cities like Beijing, are in an era of consumption, glamour and glitz. I’ve realized that much of making an impression has to do with money. While this is a true concept around the world, it seems so much more,” in your face” in China. It isn’t uncommon for Chinese people to directly ask, “How much money do you make?”.
It might seem strange to reflect on cultural differences at the end of the year staff/Oscar party but I’m forever grateful for life’s unexpected teaching moments.