Cultures intersect in China sourcing and buying.

From start to finish of the transaction, you cross languages and ideas.

From sampling to shipment there’s ups and downs in the sympatico department.

Did they get it?

Was I clear?

Should I follow up?

With some buyers and factories, it’s smooth as silk.

But with other projects and vendor, there’s friction on the Silk Road to success.

The thing about the cultural hiccups, is that they’re hidden. These obstacles impede success and at the time, neither side knows it’s happening.

In China manufacturing, the fruits of the cultural awkwardness tree are production problems and delays.

In written communication with your supplier there can be a fine line of saying too much or too little.

But language aside…

So much of cultural differences aren’t necessarily in language, garments and cuisine, but it’s THINKING.

The main component of a cultural difference are the parties having completely different flavors of thinking.

Parties don’t realize they have questions

Heads nod, handshakes given and emails sent. Both sides seem to understand.

But both sides understand differently.

Frequently a supplier that should’ve asked a question, didn’t comprehend there was a question to ask!

How do you catch this?

If you’re a buyer and you provide a directive is no news necessarily good news?

A red flag is when a supplier doesn’t ask questions.

If you import from China, if you do any type of international business relish in the fact whenever your counterpart has questions.


One cultural aspect of dealing with the Chinese and I’ve mentioned this here many times; it’s good when they argue.

If your supplier is giving you guff and quibbling over specs and possibilities, don’t be irritated! That means they are mulling over the project and considering the best way to execute.

A supplier who doesn’t argue is a supplier who may not care a whole heck of a lot.

Tend to rush through communication / Impatience

Buyers do this because they’re movers and shakers.

They don’t have time to work with the peons on the other side of the world in a slow and deliberate fashion.

It’s quickie emails and confusing corporate lingo and it’s on to the next show.

You get this kind of unproductive attitude from the buyers who are dealing with big brands.

Buyers who think they’re large enough to be as inefficient as possible and they assume the supplier will pick up the pieces.

You may say, but this is just the attitude of a buyer to supplier regardless of the cultural disconnect.

I would believe you if I haven’t seen differently with my own eyes for going on 18 years.

But either way it’s a cultural disconnect, right?

The buyer thinks in a naively cute sorta dumb way, “If the supplier has questions, they’ll ask?”

The Chinese supplier who comes from a culturally passive communication standpoint thinks, “If it was important, they would’ve told me”

Assume ulterior motives

Both sides sort of look at each other out of the corner of their eye.

When the supplier attempts to explain a problem or cost difference, the buyer jumps to “how are they trying to cheat me?”

Nowadays, because of Alibaba and Amazon, suppliers cannot believe clients.

Every client who wants to start their own private label from their home office at midnight on a Tuesday presents themselves as some large CEO.

“We just want to do a starter order to test the market“, wink wink.

Words are missed – the brain assumes

I know when Chinese read emails or chat threads, and obviously they are to their credit using a second language, they are missing words.

Sometimes they miss major words.

They’re not known to slow down and really read the email and extract all necessary juice.

Frequently, they’re in a hurry, on a production floor or in their office late at night.

The supplier scans the email, sees a few perceived key words and then moves on.

In doing this, the brain thinks it saw certain things and draws it’s own conclusion.

I saw this first hand for years in managing. I still see it with suppliers, partners and certain close family members…

From the buyer-side perspective, it happens in a different way.

The supplier attempts to explain something to the buyer, perhaps the email is lengthy.

Perhaps it’s not written in the best of English.

The buyer simply deems it as contextual fluff and ignores it.

It’s a really dangerous practice.

Later on when whatever the supplier was trying their best to explain comes to fruition, the buyer freaks out.

“Why didn’t you tell me this?!”

“How did this happen?!”

I guess the buyer was too busy to ask the first time.

The supplier assumed, if the buyer didn’t follow up, then it must’ve been a-ok.

These are just a few ways how cultural differences and trifles come to light in your offshore buying.

They start out hidden.

But like all things, they’ll eventually come to the light.