to know you while still maintaining a distance, and it helps to clarify the participants' ranks in the social hierarchy. How and by whom you are greeted at the airport, the order in which officials enter a room, and the seating patterns at a welcoming banquet all place hosts and guests in their proper place in the hierarchy. Foreigners are expected to at least attempt to play by the rules, and you can learn a great deal in the process as well. It is important to know what to expect and the meaning of ritualistic signals.
Almost every major occasion in China (be it a welcome, departure, banquet, or formal meeting) opens with an exchange of name cards followed by tea and a superficial exchange of pleasantries. Arrivals and departures are treated with great care. The host unit will, if at all possible, send a representative of suitable stature to the airport or train station to greet or see off an official guest. Many Chinese train stations have special lounges set aside for the rituals associated with meeting and departing—and to shield privileged travelers from the noise and bustle outside as they sip their tea.
Banquets are another form of Chinese ritual, and both distinguished foreign guests and young students can expect to be treated to a welcoming banquet. Student banquets are usually held in the university dining hall where dishes are more plentiful and better than ordinary fare. Distinguished guests will be hosted in the special rooms or screened portions of rooms in well-known Chinese restaurants or some older Chinese hotels.
The welcoming banquet often provides newcomers their first opportunity to witness the structure of authority in the danwei. The host is always the highest-ranking person present and is almost always seated facing the door; the most honored guest sits to the right and the second-ranking host sits directly opposite or at a corresponding position if more than one table is used. Interpreters are situated for practical rather than ritually correct reasons. Banquets usually begin with a cold plate and end with a soup and a simple dessert, usually fresh fruit. They are punctuated with toasts, which for students may be sweet Chinese soda (qishui) and in rural areas is likely to include a devastatingly powerful local liquor akin to China's fiery maotai.
However, beer and Western-style red and white wines are increasingly being served in the larger cities by establishments accustomed to foreign tastes. Except in the countryside (see the section on fieldwork), those who do not drink alcoholic beverages can toast with soda, and women will be expected to consume far less than men. Many Chinese women, even in large cities, do not drink, and Chinese will not press American women to drink, either.
Those who do not (or cannot) eat some of the exotic delicacies served at banquets can move them politely around their plate. Chinese who