A few weeks ago, Judy did an escort interpreting assignment for one of her favorite clients, and we'd love to get our readers' and colleagues' opinion on a small, but important issue. Here's her story.
Our charming clients, the owners of a company that imports building materials from China to Argentina, were in town to attend a large trade show in Vegas. They met with many of their suppliers, all of them Chinese, who were delighted to see them (our client, let's call him Mr. Building, is a very good customer of these Chinese companies). Mr. Building and his very nice wife do not speak much English, which is where I come in as a Spanish<->English escort interpreter. We mainly go to vendors' booths to talk about price, and the conversations can get quite heated. As you might imagine, the Chinese vendors are not fluent in English, so many times, I wish we had a Chinese->English interpreter, but I digress.
Mr.Building and I have developed a solid working relationship throughout the years, and this is the third trade show in a row at which we have worked together. Many of the vendors are the same every year as well. Mr. Building highly values one of his main suppliers, and it's usually one of the first booths we visit. Once I met up with Mr. and Mrs. Building, they made sure to tell me that they'd already visited their favorite vendor, but had agreed to come back with their interpreter (me) so they could start talking business. Ms. Building also told me that the vendor wanted to give me a gift. Insisting that it was not necessary to give the interpreter a gift was met with much resistance -- my clients insisted that their client insisted on giving me a gift.
Now, I am not very familiar with Chinese culture, and I wasn't sure about gift-receiving etiquette in the Chinese culture. Should I open the gift right there and then or take it home and then comment on it the next day? I wasn't sure, and the gift was presented to me as we were leaving the booth, which was full of people. It was evident from both the bag and the box what it was -- a gorgeous, long pearl necklace -- and all I managed to do was an awkward little bow. The vendor also had to rush to the next meeting, so luckily I didn't have to fret about whether or not I should open the gift. However, should I have stayed and opened it in her presence? What would you have done?
I did end up going back with my clients the next day -- just to say hello to the vendor, as I was hoping we would. My solution: I wore the beautiful necklace, which the vendor noticed immediately. I told her how much I liked it and made sure to thank her again. I could tell she was very happy I was wearing it.
Dear readers: how would you have handled this situation? Is there any particular way the Chinese expect foreigners to behave when receiving gifts? We'd love to learn from anyone who wants to share their input by leaving a comment.