Chinese business holiday

I have met hundreds of Chinese “business” delegations to UK. There was one this afternoon. Actually, I didn’t meet them, because they cannot keep up with the schedule and had to cancel it. The guy in charge was very apologetic. I was not quite surprised. After all, I have seen Chinese delegations been late for so many times and I have the latest Economist in my bag.

This does make me to think: Why they are almost inevitably late?

Chinese in general are not as punctuate as German, but no too bad by British standard. Huuumm, so why they cannot do what they could do at home? I think there a couple of reasons make the delegation people different from other business visitors.

1. Many “business” delegations are often from public organisation or state owned enterprise, they are actually on holiday. It’s common in China that officials are given overseas trips as perk. These trips doesn’t have to have a clear business purpose and it’s common to have an extremely vague one such as “To understand the operation of of UK government”. They do need to write report after the trip but you don’t have to meet government people in UK to write on that topic, after all, secretary will do the job, not the officials. Hence the “business” meeting is on a low priority compare to shopping and sight seeing. Korean have similar thing, more likely to be called “training” though.

2. Not familiar with UK. This is what everybody will experience in a foreign country. But to many Chinese who haven’t been to another country, the difference is daunting. All the small things like how to buy a train ticket, ask for direction, use credit card without pin make organising the trip a bit tricky, and these are even more complicated by the following one.

3. Low quality organiser. Perk trip’s budget has a limit and delegates are on expense allowance. They prefer to save the expense on driver and tour guide and spend the money on shopping. I met driver who needs to buy a map of WH Smith on the way to meeting place.

The senior guy/lady often has a son/daughter studying in UK. They would certainly organise the whole trip surround the university. If you are in a position that might bring benefit to the son/daughter, you don’t need to worry about their being late, otherwise.

All Chinese apply for UK business visa need an invitation letter from business partner in UK as required by British consulate, same as most other countries. And government officials and senior managers in state own enterprise often need an invitation letter form their counter part in the foreign country so that they can get approval from local foreign affair office for funding purpose, same invitation letter can be used for visa later. Occasionally, after the delegation have got visa, bought flight ticket, they would decide to do more shopping and less meeting.

But in real term, if the goal of visit is just to understand how UK operates, why sit in a meeting room, have a power point presentation will be a better way than a shopping trip in Bicester Village?

* For British who never heard of Bicester Village: it’s a design brand outlet in Oxfordshire.


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