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Struggling with China’s welcome mat

Marketplace Staff Oct 31, 2007

Struggling with China’s welcome mat

Marketplace Staff Oct 31, 2007


Doug Krizner: Celebrating Halloween in a foreign land can be challenge to expatriates. Particularly in countries like China, where the custom is a Western oddity.

But this may be the smallest of hurdles. Especially for corporate managers and their families, who don’t really want to be there. Bill Marcus reports from Shanghai.

Bill Marcus: China often reminds you you’re not in charge. Make a mistake when you dial an international call, and you get this response:

Telephone Message: You are not authorized to dial this number.

The Chinese have had thousands of years to feel powerless.

Jocelyn Lemilla has had seven months. That’s how long it’s been since her husband was transferred to Shanghai. A few weeks ago, Lemilla had some furniture delivered.

Jocelyn Lemilla: I saw them opening the back of the van to get the furniture out, so I opened the door and I waited for them. And one of the men went around the side of the van in my front yard and peed on the front yard.

For Jocelyn, who’s from Ohio, China is an unwelcome adventure. It’s hard to get around, the people are crude, and she can’t speak the language. It’s nothing like her family’s last posting in Zurich.

But she and her husband, Jari, a comptroller for a multinational company, knew that when they were asked to move to China, they really had no choice.

Jari Lemilla: You sort of have to have a China in your CV to get somewhere in the company.

Chinasolved.com publisher Andrew Hupert says there are hundreds of families like the Lemilla’s.

Andrew Hupert: The dominant model in China right now is the expat who doesn’t really want to be here or doesn’t really care about being in China per se. He would rather stay home.

Big companies are doing what they have long done to help these people adjust — including recreating main street.

Hupert: They’ve got American stores, American restaurants, American-style housing, American-style hospitals and medical facilities, American-styles schools, and they have spent a lot of money — someone has spent a lot of money — replicating the American lifestyle.

But soon, there may be fewer Americans to appreciate it. Global companies are finding the get the same talent for less money by hiring locally. And given a fatter paycheck, the Chinese will suffer powerlessness gladly.

In Shanghai, I’m Bill Marcus for Marketplace.

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