I am currently living in Beijing, lecturing strategy and finance courses to undergraduates.
One observation I’ve made is that the people here are good at identifying opportunities for profit.
And I use the word profit not in a financial sense, but with the broader meaning of the French verb profiter, which means “to make the most advantage of”.
This can have positive, negative and hilarious consequences.
Here are three examples:
- Food is a religion here in China. There is no better example of making the most out of life than having a true appreciation of good food. (Peking duck, jiaozi and baozi are my three current favourites.)
- People often say that the Chinese are hard bargainers, which is true. They see how big the pie is, and, with a friendly smile, they ask for all of it. This is obviously a generalization, but I have witnessed it enough times for it to have become a familiar pattern. It can be extremely positive, for example, if the person is your friend and is helping you to bargain for a big ticket item. It can also have calamitous consequences, such as the traffic jam which is frequently caused at an intersection near my apartment because every driver tries to gain a small edge by cutting through the intersection without waiting for a green light; a complete traffic meltdown typically ensues.
- Opportunity knocks at the door only once (机不可失，时不再来). I was recently at a large French retail store called Auchan. I left my shopping trolley at the end of a long isle, with a few items in it, and walked down the isle to see if I needed anything. When I returned to my trolley, I noticed that my items had been neatly placed on a shelf, and the trolley was gone. It took me a half a minute to figure out what had happened … someone had stolen my trolley! The experience was so bizarre. Five minutes later and a few isles further along I spotted a middle aged Chinese lady with a huge carry bag sitting in a trolley that looked suspiciously like the one I had lost.
Sometimes you have to laugh.
We would do well though to follow the Chinese example of trying to always make the most out of life, particularly where it involves a shared positive experience or the chance to create something valuable for others (like the wonderful Chinese cuisine!).
Disclaimer: Creating traffic jams, and stealing shopping trolleys should generally be avoided.