Having a discussion over dinner with different people from different cultural backgrounds seems to be harmless since the atmosphere might be more relaxed and less intimidating than in the actual office. However, an issue might arise in this situation, especially when we do not understand how to maintain our nonverbal and verbal language during the formal feast with people from different cultural backgrounds.
Food and feasting form essential part of social integration as it is used to create alliances among people (Haines &Sammels, 2011). From this perspective, enjoying meals together in a business setting can be seen as one of the effective ways to network with clients or business’ counterpart. As business becomes more globalized, it is not unusual to deal with clients from different cultural backgrounds. In China, business deals are moved on to a dining table and around fifty percent of the business deals are closed over meals (Parkinson, 2014; Hamilton-Wright, 2004 in McDaniel, Bevil, McNeely & Watson, 2014). This condition calls attention to the importance of growing awareness about the importance of dining etiquette.
One idea of having dinner or meals with clients or business partner is to maintain relationship. In order to do so, ones need to be able to understand verbal and nonverbal language. Nonverbal language is a silent informative behaviour or non-purely linguistics form of communication which refers to any behavioural action related to body movements, eye movements, facial expression, arms movement or even dress to support communication (Wang & Loewen, 2016; Phutela, 2015; Hall, 2013). Some possible instances of nonverbal action in the dining table are the way of using cutleries, the act of passing on plates or food, the act of raising glass, etc. In China, eating rice by only picking up the rice with chopstick without lifting up the bowl is seen as an open insult to the host as this act expresses disinterest to the food (Cooper, 1986). This illustrates that nonverbal behaviour is important in table manner as stated in Gabott and Hog (2000) that ninety percent of communication depends on the nonverbal element. However, Hall (2013) emphasizes that to convey meaning, nonverbal language does not travel on the separate paths with verbal language.
Verbal language is related with oral communication, such as performing speech acts. Speech acts refer to the performance of certain acts through words, such as refusing something, requesting, thanking, complimenting, and complaining (Gass, 2006). Additionally, Gass (2006) underlines that the way people performing speech acts can be varied based on their cultures. Thus, it is important to understand how to mitigate certain speech acts which may potentially threaten someone’s face or self-esteem.
According to Cherry, Ellis and DeSourcey (2011), food or drinks which are served or consumed in certain community represent group membership. This is important to highlight as the food prepared by the host probably represent their belief or cultural values and therefore the guests need to appreciate every effort made by the host. Aimers (2010), a Canadian anthropologist narrated his own experience when he was working in Japan and refusing to eat whale which was ordered by his Japanese friend who asserted that eating whale was part of Japanese culture and if someone wanted to learn Japanese culture he/she should eat like the Japanese. His refusal resulted in an awkward moment between him and his Japanese friend since he was refusing the food quite harshly by saying: “Our friendship is suspended until the whale is off the table”. This point suggests that a guest needs to be very mindful in refusing the food prepared by the host. Additionally, according to Marti-Arnadiz and Salazar-Campillo (2013) refusal is categorized as face threatening act (FTA). FTA is any potential act that can damage the face of the speaker, the hearer or even both (Cameron, 2001)
Good manners can be learned from book or observation, the problem is that the manner that we learn is not always applied in other countries Therefore miscommunication and misconception are most likely to be unavoidable in the multicultural feast. Pertaining this issue, one question, such as who need to accommodate the differences, the visitors or the host is worth to be discussed.
According to the expanded version of Communication Accommodation Theory (CAT) stated in Giles and Soliz (2014), speakers try to adjust their language, nonverbal communication and other communicative aspects of identity in order to maintain interaction. From this theory, I suppose, to make communication over dining table run smoothly, the host and the guest need to accommodate one another and mitigate any speech threatening act.
Apologizing and also giving a compliment is two ways to soften negative act, such as refusal. In Aimer’s (2010) case, instead of harshly refusing the whale offered by his Japanese friend, he could say “It’s a very nice of you trying your best to introduce another Japanese culture to me, but I’m so sorry I cannot eat whale”. Apologising means taking responsibility of doing something wrong (Tracy & Robles, 2013). I think, starting the refusal with “I’m sorry” means that the speaker admits that he has done something wrong by refusing someone kindness, and so the interlocutor might feel less offended. Meanwhile, by giving appreciation through complimenting the host’s act before making refusal can soften the threatening act. A compliment is considered as a nice speech act and most likely be seen as a positive act (Tracy &Robies, 2013).
In regard to the nonverbal behaviour, Tanaka &Kleiner (2015) suggests that following the action of other is the safest behaviour to do. In my opinion, however, it is important to be careful in imitating the action of other, because we might imitate it wrongly. Additionally, I supposed it is important not to easily judge the guests’ strange nonverbal behaviour as they might do it unintentionally due to their limited cultural knowledge about food etiquette.
Lastly, globalization raises the frequency of contact between cultures. This might increase tolerance, but also possibly increase the chance for people to annoy each other. In multi-cultural business setting or multi-cultural formal dinner where most of the time the people involved in the dinner do not really know about the food custom or special dietary hold by each person, it is really important for the host and the guest to mitigate any threatening acts; either verbal threatening act or nonverbal threatening act in a proper way to run the communication smoothly and to build the path of mutual relationship.
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