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Accepting drinks in a Chinese disco

March 2, 2010 – 11:00 pm

One of the unique features of a Chinese nightclub, disco or bar is, the Westener often gets free drinks sponsored by other customers. Some popular explanations include that the Chinese want to impress the Westener so the Westerner stays with this particular Chinese guy. From the Western perspective paying drinks for an unknown person is a weak gesture. Thanks for the drink, have a nice evening, bye. In China however Western guys not only get one drink, they can get completely drunk without spending a single mao. But what is the Chinese perspective on this matter? Why do Chinese guys buy drinks for Westerners in a nightclub, bar or disco? On a side note, it’s almost always the guys who pay drinks for you. One of the very few occasions where a female gave me a drink, she later turned out to be a professional. This was a woman from a mixed group of Chinese, not a single woman.

babi two chengdu club house and techno music
Babi 2 Club in Chengdu, one of the best Chinese clubs I know.

To answer this question we have to look at Chinese values for a moment. Money ranks very high in the Chinese value system. Like it or not, a big wallet in China is an indicator of your importance in the society. In fact Chinese people mostly believe all white faces are rich. Surveys among Chinese women have show that money ranks among the most important factors for choosing a partner.

What does that have to do with sponsored drinks in China? If have accepted drinks more then once during your time in China, you may have observed something interesting. Sometimes it happens, sometimes not. This Chinese guy just offered you a drink. You accepted and he leaves the table. Only you and the ladies are left there at the table. What this guy did is, he just showed that he is economically superior and you are dependent on his beer (in a economical sense). While it may sound strange from the Western point of view, it makes quite sense from the Chinese viewpoint. What can be done?

If you plan to visit a certain location more than once you should consider buying your own drinks. Otherwise the lovely Chinese females may come to the conclusion that you really are a beggar and have no financial power. Another good idea is to visit two different places and dedicate one to get drunk, where you accept any drink offered, and another place where you pay for yourself and have a higher status.

So how to handle the situation? The best case is to have your own drink. The second best is the accept the drink immediately, smile, and say “Thanks dude”. The worst case is to say “no” for a while, only to give in afterwards and accept the drink. In this case you really subordinated yourself to the other guy and appear to be his tool. Don’t do that. I hope I could give some insight on Chinese nightlife to you. If you like to add something, feel free to comment. Cheers!

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  1. 13 Responses to “Accepting drinks in a Chinese disco”

  2. did you really ever find yourself having a hard time getting close to a female, just because another guy bought a drink for you?

    Of course, he wants to show: “Hey, I’m not poor, I can even pay a drink for a rich white guy”. And his level of attraction rises a lot. But does this mean that yours necessarily is lower? Without having much experience in those clubs, I dare to say that this is not like that; your behavior (it’s obvious wether somebody accepts a drink for drinking or because he needs the money) and your status usually protects you from having people judging you as poor ;)

    By Aremonus on Mar 3, 2010

  3. I haven’t ever thought about this, although it happened to me many times in Malaysia, where I also hung out among Chinese. Most who treated me, were some friends of my ex, also guys. I always thought they did that out of generosity. Another case was my ex’s ‘da jie fu’, he would always pay for drinks and food, wherever we went. He always said, when he comes to Europe, I can treat him. But he took me as part of his family. It was some kind of pride and mixed with generosity. But that are Malaysian Chinese, who are for me very friendly and generous. Maybe it’s a bit different than China, no idea. But I never went to clubs and pubs alone, was always part of the group, so I can’t really tell.

    I also think Aremonus is right. Even, if guys treat you, doesn’t lower your status. It’s all about how you carry yourself. And people come and go in clubs, so it’s not like everyone knows your drink was sponsored.

    By MKL on Mar 3, 2010

  4. Dunno.. I got paid some drinks, I once received a full bottle of Jack Daniel’s (worth something around 800 Kuai) from Chinese, mostly men but sometimes also women (even though I really tried hard to pay for myself).

    If I were out with some girls.. we accepted those drinks, talked a little bit – and none of them were any different towards me afterwards. They also forgot about this guy immediately after he left the table – coz they didn’t remember him when we saw them the next time.

    Seriously, how do u get to this theory? I can’t proof it wrong – but it most certainly doesn’t apply in all cases..

    By TaugeNix on Mar 3, 2010

  5. When going out at the evening, 1000 of things factor into your success, or failure. The drinks thing is only one of many. Some people write books about how to behave correctly in China. They might give you the advice to not point at people with your chopsticks. I at least once pointed at someone with my chopsticks and he still is my friend. But knowing how to act correctly will make you look like a socially educated person.

    @Aremonus,

    Someone told me I should take a shower and dress nicely before I hit the clubs in the evenings. Well, someone else might prove it is possible without taking a shower and without dressing fashionable. The point is to increase your overall chances.

    The point about the drinks won’t make or break your chances, but they factor in.

    As you pointed out, it raises the Chinese guys attraction. What if the attraction level was equal before and now he raised himself through the drinks thing?

    I think it es less of a problem if you visit a venue only once, but might have some impact if you are a repeat customer.

    @MKL,

    I guess things are different when it comes to friends and people we know. I wouldn’t spend a drink on a guy I just met. But I do spend drinks on my good friends when I can. I try to keep a balance between going out with friends and going out alone. Going alone can be quite a challenge because it forces you to make friends with people you never met before.

    @TaugeNix,

    In fact I accepted drinks very often myself and it left me wondering. I thought about the whole thing for quite a while and couldn’t find a explanation. Just a few days ago someone told me about this and I think it sounds reasonable so I wrote about it here. Can’t give a link, because it’s a private forum :D

    This theory might be wrong, however I feel it’s the best explanation I heard so far about the drinks thing. I need to study the Chinese nightlife in more detail the next time I visit China.

    By Hendrik on Mar 3, 2010

  6. Well, I had quite some groups of women buying me drinks … :-P

    Btw: “Money ranks very high in the Chinese value system.” does not sound like communism. In fact, China (better the People’s Republic of China) is one of the most capitalistic countries I have ever been to.

    If you say “yes” and you know you are “the tool”, you are actually not “the tool” because you know why that guy was buying the drinks. You accept so that he doesn’t loose face and you can get friggin’ pissed :)

    By kozen on Mar 3, 2010

  7. Hi Kozen,

    According to PRC-communism when communism finally arrives everyone will be rich. The current state is in between. It’s not possible to make everyone rich at the same time, so some people go first, the others will follow.

    Being able to see how a situation works is always helpful. How do you make sure the girls know that you know?

    By Hendrik on Mar 3, 2010

  8. Is it just my distrustful western attitude but I would never accept a drink from a stranger. Who knows what’s in it or what motives the guy may have.

    I also noticed that while I was in Beijing (on vacation) most chinese men were sort of scared of me in the club. Might be because I am close to 2 meters tall or perhaps I was just a bit smelly :P But only the women ‘tried’ talking to me. Sadly I didn’t speak a single word of Mandarin. (made it my goal to learn it ever since)

    By Lunaios on Mar 3, 2010

  9. Methinks Lunaios hits the nail on the head. What’s in the drink is the main issue.
    Btw, some professionals may approach you with “Give me money for a drink”.

    By justrecently on Mar 4, 2010

  10. @Lunaios,
    A healthy portion of distrust is good, yet I think China is one of the safer countries. No risk no fun I guess. When I go out in the evening, I only take a limited amount of money and remove my important cards from my wallet.

    好好学习 :)

    @justrecently,
    These professionals obviously believe in cold capitalism. Poor souls, I’m coming for their rescue. :D

    By Hendrik on Mar 4, 2010

  11. Well, at least they managed to make China much richer than it’s ever been before, whilst not so capitalist countries (such as certain african, but also several south-east Asian nation) aren’t doing that well…
    The problem of the Chinese government ist just the so-called tragic of the commons – externalities aren’t internalised as much as they should. But at least, they now seem to get the hints…

    However, as an economist, I believe in hot capitalism :P

    By Aremonus on Mar 4, 2010

  12. Does that mean you are a hot professional :D

    By Hendrik on Mar 5, 2010

  13. Chinese Clubs…. where to start.

    Prerequisites for having a fun time in a Chinese Club

    1) Go with a large group of friends (some Chinese, and some Westerners preferable)

    2)Arrive at the club already wasted. Pregaming is essential because nobody is having a good time while paying 40 kuai for a tsingtao beer.

    3) Make a reservation for a table before hand. Chinese clubs have no place to sit if you aren’t a paying customer. No better way to look like a tool, than to be smushed up against the wall in a crowded nightclub.

    4) Pool your money, and buy a big bottle of liquor. Have your party all thrown in a 100 kuai note a person. Depending on the bar, this should be more than enough to ensure everyone is drinking, and having a good time.

    5) For the guys, let the women come to you. Enjoy your drink, and exude confidence. Having decent mandarin won’t hurt either.

    6) If you don’t smoke, you will be offered cigarettes repeatedly. I have found that the best way to diffuse the situation is to say I quit smoking 我戒烟了 wǒ jiè yān le. Even if you never smoke to began with, everyone will respect your determination.

    These are just simple rules for enjoying yourself at a Chinese Club. Going to a Chinese Club is kinda like taking acid. If the conditions are right, you will have an amazing experience, and find yourself awake till the sunrise. If the conditions are suboptimal, you will find yourself crying in the corner, ready to be taken home in a wheelbarrow.

    Enjoy

    @Junjie

    I went to a club while in Chengdu in the Summer of 09. It was 88. Not sure if you have been there or not. Standard club seen. Weird chandeliers and pistons, pulleys, and gears coming out from the wall. Beijing also has it’s share of “steam punk” inspired Night Clubs. Luckily for me Beijing has a big enough expat population where you don’t have to subject yourself to pretentious over priced mega clubs.

    By Anhony on Mar 8, 2010

  14. Hi Anthony,

    I like to go alone, because it is more thrilling. Will I be able to make friends? I like this challenge. There is nothing like being ony my own and then starting a conversation with a whole group of Chinese. Adrenaline! Well, I like challenges in general.

    Your advice is good, especially this one:
    我戒烟了. haha, that’s slick ;)

    And about the decent mandarin, I hope to get my ass over to China again, hopefully before this year ends, then I can close my textbook, mp3s,… and just learn on the street, in the bar,…

    By Hendrik on Mar 8, 2010

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