Many of my "foreigner" friends and I have discussed and agreed repeatedly that one of the most difficult things about living in China is the difference in how business is done.
This week I got a nice little reminder of just how deep those differences run.
I have been in negotiations with my new boss over a (incredibly small) pay raise. Because of my class schedule, I have had to drop my Friday lunch time English corner at the hospital. Losing these 4 days a month of salary would be detrimental to me. So I asked for a 50rmb raise (about $5.50) for each of my Wednesday and Thursday classes to make traveling an hour on the public bus each way "worth it" for the salary after losing Fridays. This would mean I make 50rmb a week less than before, rather than 150rmb less (what I made for a Friday class).
I could make a ton more money private tutoring out of my home and not commuting, but I keep this job because relationships are so important in China and I've got mad "guanxi" (relations) with a distiguished hospital. Also, my friends work there.
Last Thursday I was on schedule to go into the hospital to interview new students - my classes begin this week.
I repeatedly told my boss that I would not go in to interview the students if I was not getting my raise. I was planning on quitting to tutor if I was denied the raise. I made this very clear and was told over and over to "wait a little" and "just come in."
Basically, I was being "Chinese manipulated". (common occurence).
On Wednesday I texted my boss and was like, "I need to know by tomorrow morning if you will give me the raise. I'm not coming to interview if I don't hear from you." She responded with, "I'll let you know tomorrow." And I was satisfied with that answer.
But lo' and behold 30 minutes later my phone rings. It was Michael, my Chinese BFF who is a heart surgeon at the hospital.
Oh Lordy. I thought. I knew what was coming. The lines between business and personal are blurred here. And things were about to get dirty.
I answered the phone and our conversation went like this:
Michael, "So I hear you are asking for a raise of 50rmb." (I hadn't told him about my dealings, because my salary is none of my friend's business.)
Me, "yes. Michael I don't want to talk to you about this."
Michael, "Yes, but I just need to ask you if you would give (boss's name) more time. Things take time at the hospital and you should just give her more time."
Me, "So she asked you to call me to ask me to give her more time. She's making you do her business."
Michael, "It's not like that. Just give her more time."
...and it went on...in a mix of Chinese and English. I explained to him rather forecefully that I was not happy that my boss had employed my good friend to get her way, knowing that we have a deep friendship and that I listen to Michael.
Basically the whole situation dripped of manipulation and non-professionalism. I would never have asked for a 5 dollar raise if I knew it would cause strife.
I told him that he was not to talk to my boss, that my salary wasn't his business, that I didn't want him in the middle of this, and that his friendship meant more to me than my job. I hung up in a tizzy. (I'm a deeply emotional being - for better or worse).
I was blazing mad for about 15 minutes. I regretted mixing business and friendships in China because the line between the two is often gray.
I had a dinner to go to and so I didn't have a lot of time to sit and think, I hopped on a public bus, still fuming, and decided to do the American thing - be honest.
I said a prayer, took some deep breaths, asked for mercy and patience and self control, and dialled up my boss.
I told her that I did not appreciate her discussing our business dealings with my friends who have nothing to do with English class. I told her I didn't want to work there anymore because I felt my friendships were compromised. I told her that when working with "people from developed countries," she needed to use professionalism and tact.
I told her I felt manipulated and didn't understand why they were dragging their feet. I told her that I expected a "yes" or a "no" and not a million "maybe''s or "later''s. I told her that I had given her ample time to decide (7 weeks). I told her that asking Michael to call me was gravely upsetting to me because I value our friendship more than anything in China and having him get involved in our negotiations was crossing boundaries.
I let it all out. I never raised my voice. But I was honest with how I was feeling and allowed her a chance to respond.
She told me that this was the "Chinese way." She told me that she didn't mean to make me angry. She told me that other people in the financial department hadn't given her an answer and this is why she couldn't give me an answer.
Then she thanked me for "teaching her the foreign way," and expressed that she liked my, "frankness."
I thanked her for being patient with working with someone from another culture. And gently reminded her that since she works in the foreign affairs department and often makes business contact with foreigners, that she needed to remember this incident and not manipulate the pants off of future business partners.
I got my raise.
Thursday when I went in to interview the new students. I gave my boss a necklace from Miami when I was home a few weeks ago and held her hands and told her I was thankful for her listening to me. She hugged around my waist and all was well.
Later, I saw Michael and he just laaaaauuughed at me. "You were sooo mad yesterday," he said with a smile on his face. And then we laughed about it. He said my boss called him freaking out saying she wanted to cry.
"Foreign women are so powerful," he said and then sucker punched me and said in the next breathe, "Want to see the new orphans in the ward?"
"Ya," I said. And all was well.
Ai yi yi. The cultural lessons never end.
walk slow. xoxo.