Saturday, March 20, 2010

Business Lunch? No, Thanks

To many Russians who work with American companies, the business lunch is one of the most annoying things in American culture. Probably, American businessmen like the idea of saving time by having lunch and a business meeting at once, but each time I attend such business lunches I feel great discomfort. I discussed this with my Russian friends who have had similar experiences and they confess that they also get annoyed with the need to chew and talk at the same time.

Photo by Shawn Liu

I think one of the reasons why Russians feel discomfort when eating while being involved in the meeting is that since early childhood we were taught not to talk when chewing. We even have a saying for kids, “When I am eating, I am deaf-and-dumb”. In Russia, it is considered very bad manners to eat and talk.

Another reason is that Russians believe that you show great disrespect to a speaker when you eat during his presentation. You find the presentation so boring that you stop listening and start chewing instead. And you let everyone see that. An average Russian speaker also would find it insulting if the audience was chewing during his speech. More disgusting and disrespectful than that is only to stand up and leave the meeting room in the middle of the presentation.

I was very angry and nervous when I was invited to a business launch with one of the top managers of the company I work with. I was really hungry and all I wanted was to focus on the food. But I was listening to the manager while my hot, juicy, tasty steak got warm and then cold. I couldn’t force myself to eat while he was talking because I was afraid to show disrespect. I couldn’t take a piece of food from my plate because I had to participate in our discussion and I didn’t want everybody see partly chewed meat on my teeth. And also I couldn’t answer to his questions properly because I couldn’t think about the business. “Could you give me some privacy to finish with my lunch” I thought, but continued keeping a smiley face. Definitely, lunch should be about food, not about business.

However, it would be wrong to say that Russians do not mix business and food. In Russia, significant events and important contracts are celebrated with a lavish dinner. Traditional vodka, plenty of tasty dishes – Russian hosts do their best to amuse their guests with food, alcohol and entertainment. And when the guests are in the very good mood, maybe even experiencing sort of euphoria, Russian businessmen get back to contracts and business issues. As you may guess, it is much easier to get a positive answer from a full and happy person than from a hungry one.