Living in China I often ask myself “how can I be successful here”? I have come to the conclusion that to successfully live abroad one must listen, learn and adapt to the culture in which one currently lives. It takes continuous time, effort and attention to detail. Sometimes cultural difference can be found in the smallest of things. I experienced this yesterday with regard to the color of my tie.
I arrived at the office and two separate Chinese colleagues commented on my wearing a red tie. I was surprised by their comments so I asked them why they commented on my wearing a red tie. One of my colleagues told me that red is worn during Chinese New Year.
In America a red tie is often worn to show confidence and power. Often western politicians will wear red ties during televised speeches or at political events. When attending an important meeting or speaking at an event, I will also sometimes wear a red tie.
I thought more about what my two Chinese colleagues said and after finishing a meeting with my Chinese boss I asked him when it was appropriate to wear a red tie. My boss told me that in Chinese culture a red tie would be worn at a special occasion like Chinese New Year or a celebration with family and friends because red was associated with luck and prosperity. It could be worn at a business event as long as it was a celebratory event. I had known for many years that in Chinese culture red was associated with luck and prosperity and is often connected to festivals, especially Chinese New Year. However, what I did not know is that it is not appropriate to wear red at a non-celebratory event. Needless to say I will save my red tie for the next Chinese celebratory event I attend.
When someone tells you that what you are doing is not appropriate it is never easy to hear and accept. We all like to think that we always do things properly. However, the person is telling you because they care about you and they don’t want to see you make a mistake or embarrass yourself. That person is a friend. I feel very fortunate that my Chinese colleagues felt comfortable enough with me to say something about my tie.