LESSONS LEARNED IN CHINA: COMMUNICATION

Communication facilitates the supply and demand of any industry. Without communication, a company ceases to function efficiently. Clear and concise communication remains an integral part of any task.

Let me tell you a tale of communication gone awry.

Last summer, I went to Beijing and Shanghai and experienced a different world. Comparing America and China, yes, some things are the same. However, what continued to shock me were small details and mannerisms that were drastically different. Both my roommate and I experienced a classic, but embarrassing example of miscommunication.

Big Members Larissa (left) and Erica (right)

Our group in Beijing noticed the abundance of masseuse shops around our hotel and tirelessly questioned our tour guide, Zhang Li, about the shops. After climbing the Great Wall and visiting the Forbidden Palace, Zhang Li recommended we treat ourselves to massages. Zhang Li announced masseuses would come to our hotel rooms that very evening.

Panic Ensued.

“How much would it cost?” “Did we need to undress?” “Would they be guys or girls?” “Would Zhang Li be with us?” As our questions escalated with growing intensity, Zhang Li laughed and said we would be fine, “They will take care of everythingBarton International Group Team in China."

Our group was too afraid to pursue the proper clothing attire question, instead we asked again if we needed to do anything for the masseuses and would they bring their own equipment such as beds. Zhang Li’s calm response, was, “Yes, yes, you will be fine, so relax.”

Our hotel rooms were small, with little room for additional beds or people. Based on Zhang Li’s information, my roommate and I began to hurriedly move all the chairs desks and luggage into a heaping mountain on top of our beds to make way for the soon to be arriving masseuses and equipment. With nowhere to sit, we awkwardly shuffled around our hotel room barefoot and nervously giggling about how this massage was going to happen and if they even knew English. In the middle of a nervous giggling and shuffling, we heard a knock at our hotel room door. We quickly looked around to ensure we had stashed everything we could physically move on top of our beds and swung the door open.

In our doorway stood several masseuses with very puzzled expressions on their faces. With our nonexistent Mandarin and their limited English, we finally arranged we only needed two masseuses. However, upon entrance into our room, their Mandarin broke out in an unceasing stream of escalating speed and rising volume. My roommate and I grew very afraid. We had just invited complete strangers into our hotel room and we were in China! What had we done?!

After a few more minutes of non-stop Mandarin and our anxiety increasing by the second, one of the women pointed to our beds and said, “What happened?” My roommate and I stood there and said with dumbfounded elegance, “Huh?”

After a moment of utter silence, my roommate and I looked at each other and realized with total embarrassment, they had not brought beds and we looked like hoarders. The next five minutes involved apologies, cleaning, and moving at very high speeds to restore our hotel room to its former arrangement. I am sure we looked like Americans lost in their Chinese world.

We had just experienced a large misunderstanding and miscommunication. Did the language barrier help? No. Nevertheless, we created a learning experience through it all. We will even impart our wisdom so you won’t make the same mistakes we did:

1. Ask concise and direct questions

2. Gestures may or may not work, but they make you feel like you are at least trying

3. Masseuses will probably not bring their own equipment with them

4. When in doubt, smile. Everyone loves a smile

5. Bring a friend, so when embarrassing things like this happen, at least you aren’t the only one looking ridiculous