Shanghai’s Oktoberfest, or as I like to call it…

…the Chinese’n.*

Just when I thought I’d gotten all the Oktoberfest stuff out of my system for the year, I packed a bag, finished up a presentation and waited for the airport shuttle to pick me up and take me to Emirates‘ Lounge for Lesser Deities. I was off to Shanghai for a week to do some training to the people I support in the region (meaning all over Asia and the South Pacific). I had a lot of room left in my suitcase, as compared to my NAFTA trip, where my suitcase scooted in at just one pound under the weight limit, and I had no idea I should have packed my Trachten (Lederhosen, traditional shirt, suspenders, Haferlschuhe, wooly socks) along with my biz cazh.

I overnighted it on the plane, which you can do on an Emirates plane in business class to a realistic degree of comfort. I woke up in Dubai to a fantastic airport and an enormous business class lounge there. I waited about four hours and continued on to Shanghai to the Sheraton Hongkou hotel — a rather new and classy place to stay not far from my company’s office building. The taxi trip to the office was an eye-opener. All that stuff you’ve heard about roads in China: absolutely true.

I found the people there in the office very welcoming and friendly and helpful. My first night there, they took me out to a great restaurant for dinner and gave me a glimpse of the Bund — the waterfront area famous in Shanghai for 90 years already.

But during the training, when I was trying to encourage open discussion and group participation in the exercises I had planned for them (with a few exceptions), they weren’t helping me at all. I felt abandoned and confused, flipping through my slides at light speed and amazing myself at our pace. My training presentation went off without a hitch, content-wise and concept-wise, in Mexico and the U.S., but clearly something was different here. No one was willing to talk. No volunteers. No shared experience. Almost no questions. Certainly no cross-functional discussion. I still have a thing or two to learn about business culture in Asia.

I thought these people must be crazy uptight at first. And then I watched them cut loose at the Holiday Inn Oktoberfest.

Some had been to Germany before. Some had even been to the real Oktoberfest before — though surprisingly, none of the actual Germans present in our party (there were three, and one from Bavaria even!). My main contact knew what she wanted and made it herself after the waitress couldn’t bring her one — a Radler. As the party progressed, I grew more and more astounded how these reserved, conservative, shy, self-conscious colleagues of mine from the day before really tied one on to the beat of all your traditional and non-traditional Oktoberfest favorites: YMCA, Dancing Queen, Das ist so ein Schöner Tag, Cowboys und Indianer. One notable exception: the Chicken Dance!? And I have to admit: I was missing Country Roads. Enjoy the video.

8 thoughts on “Shanghai’s Oktoberfest, or as I like to call it…”

  1. ian in hamburg

    Good to see the Germans aren’t the only people born a couple of beers short. :-)

    1. cliff1976

      Even if it’s Carlsberg, it was still a really good time. Even the typical Oktoberfest trinket-hawkers (dancing stuff animals, goofy hats, and the like) were represented, making their way among the authentic-feeling Bierbänke at the Holiday Inn Shanghai.

  2. The Honourable Husband

    “…meaning all over Asia and the South Pacific.”

    Australia, too?

    1. cliff1976

      Yes, I support some Australians, but sadly none could attend my training sessions in Shanghai.

  3. TravelingServiceMan

    I think the vibe your feeling in your meetings is typical of the region. I was in Dalian several times last year for some equipment installations and training and was warned from the sponsor that when I asked if my students understood, not to believe ‘Yes’ because they would always say yes. Fortunately for me, my teaching had a direct practical application and I just ran them through the actual physical action of using and maintaining the equipment, probably not so easy for your stuff.

    1. cliff1976

      Yes, I learned that after-the-fact. But even some locals in the Shanghai office (from Shanghai and Korea, but with much much exposure to Western culture, attitudes, and seminars like these) were a little surprised at just how reserved the participants from the Philippines, Korea, Japan, Malaysia, India, and various cities in China were.

      I had two hours of time left over by the time I got to the last slide, because there was no time necessary for discussion/exchange at all. Fortunately, we used the extra time for some practical one-on-one exercises, where they (finally, after spending 8 hours listening to me plead with them to paricipate) began to expose their concerns to me. And then I could help.

      That was 180° out of phase with the group in Mexico — they were only too happy to share what they knew and expose difficulties they’d had with me or anyone else within earshot, whether it was relevant to my training topic or not.

  4. Deli

    I spoke yesterday to a guy who has just returned from 4yrs in Shanghai working in a managerial position. He said your experience is common and has to do with the fact that asking questions implies a lack of knowledge and noone wants to lose face in front of their colleagues. He worked against this by asking people questions directly (though this only works if you know names). He actually said that if noone fell asleep during your presentation, you did well!!

    1. cliff1976

      Aha, well, I guess I was ahead of the game then (at least a little bit), because I made sure to provide name tents for every participant for that purpose.

      I caught no one napping, so if they were doing it, it was with great skill!

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