Butcher's Block

There is a lovely cafe (and restaurant) in Wahroonga, New South Wales (just outside Sydney) named "The Butcher's Block."

They serve a very "Aussie" breakfast menu, and by that I mean hearty and meaty dishes, with a creamy bias, sized up to Texas portion sizes. As the name implies this is not a Vegan-friendly place by any means.

I do enjoy the setting and the coffee is de-lish and the high-protein brekkie every once in a while, though I realize more and more (if I'm not skipping breakfast) the Chinese breakfast of congee and deep-fried cruller is ultimately my go-to.

But that's not I want to make comments about today.

I want to take about what's in a name, in particular "The Butcher's Block."

This name strikes me as an utterly Western name. Yet why is that? Why is it utterly not Chinese, and such a good example of real cultural differences between Chinese and Western?

"The Butcher's Block" is a purely descriptive name. There is something attractive about it in a Western context due to its matter-of-factness, its total and willing abandonment of adornment. It is what it is. Take it or leave it. The context does not matter. This is a hyper-Western example: 100% description and nothing else is "Veritas," it is truth, brother.

But why is it in a hundred years you would never see a cafe in China named as such (at least one opened by Chinese people)? Why is there no Chinese 屠夫塊咖啡室 (literally, butcher's block)? Is it just the characters, which have graphic representations which foil this name? In this case the first character for "butcher" 屠 is composed of the modular parts "protagonist" and "corpse." A truly "nail on the head" ideogram, if I've ever seen one, Sweet Bloody Christ... Give me a bloody Acai bowl stat...

Nonetheless, I dunno if it is just that characters are too heavy, leading to "matter of fact" failures to conjure contextless images...

I reckon that Chinese are culturally attuned to using aspirational names. That is not to say that the names have to necessarily be grand, like sometimes you see "Peaceful Universe Dim Sum" or "Galaxy This" or "Ocean That." Xiaomi 小米 is maybe a little "humblebrag" but it isn't grand, "little rice" gets into some metaphorical space about bits and data though.

The core difference is Westerner's tend to compliment themselves when they "tell it like it is," whereas Chinese do not.


Silence is Consent?

In Western business culture is “silence is consent?”

I think it is. For example, if you don’t tell the VP of Marketing that his campaign is deeply problematic in the meeting, well, aren't you then automatically a supporter of his campaign? Defaults matter in more rules-based Western business manners. No protest at that particular time, no hands raised within that window means you are going with whatever is being proposed and you have little to no rights to conduct a future review.

In Chinese business culture, I don't think silence is consent. I think silence is a degree of acquiescence, but definitely not consent. A lot happens in side meetings and in pre-meetings, so much so that this particular meeting may just be a formality. Silence in that meeting, or any meeting never has the finality that it does in a Western context. It is not as rules-based. Therefore, with future ebbs and flows in the balance of power amongst all stakeholders, the likelihood of a review or a reopening and reconsideration of the past circumstances of the "silence" persists and can't really be eliminated.

The President vs. Office of the President

How much do we care about the distinction between "The/A President" and "The Office of the President?"

It seems every American movie in recent memory where the White House, or some organ of the U.S. government is attacked and the President is injured, held hostage, or otherwise compromised there is one character or another that must use the perfunctory line: “The Office of the President is bigger than any one man.”

“Dimensions” (i.e. the cultural dimensions that I talk about in my book) regarding something as tricky as values or “culture,” are not black and white. But even though these differences are not ironclad and easily identifiable, there is a point where cultural differences do matter. You have been to the movies, and you know what I mean. Chinese screenwriters don’t have the corresponding stock line.

The Western model is institution unambiguously above the individual. Mind you, I don't necessarily think this is how governance is practiced in the West today--I am just talking about abstract ideals.

Maybe we don't immediately think of it that way, but in the American practice it is a default to reflexively point out “The President” and “The Office of The President of The United States of America”. I wonder if that reflex is not as well honed in greater China because institutions can be synonymous with an individual, if not subsumed by an individual. 


The ART of the DEAL: Chinese and Western Approaches

I think that Chinese, however, do have a different mindset, an approach that encourages gamesmanship in negotiation, one that relishes it. Negotiation is to business what sex is to reproduction. Negotiation, in fact is the fun part. In trying to get a deal done, the Chinese way involves feigning, indeed a measure of misdirection. The Chinese way might involve a lowball offer, just to get things warmed up, or indeed, just to tip the other party off balance. There might be an agreement on the price, in lightning speed, but with a twist, that the terms have to be heavily modified, i.e. “I’ll agree to $500,000,000. But, I have to be able to pay you in eight quarterly instalments over four years. Oh yeah, and my nephew needs a job.”

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Ethnicity as Laundry List

Sure, most people don’t think that by naming 5 ethnicities they have claims to 5 different club memberships. But then again some people are that vain. The warming notion that there is something hip about being a child of the world, by being born into this world love of multi-ethnicities, well, I guess people decide, shucks “it’s kinda cool; I’ll just play along.”

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