One of the more interesting outcomes of the internet revolution in recent years has been China’s continued fascination with British culture.
Merlin, Silk, Hustle, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, Black Mirror, Dr Who, North and South, and The White Queen among others have all been lapped up by young Chinese viewers in their millions through digital platforms like Youku and Iqiyi. The popularity of British telly is such that Mr Bean was recently reprised for a Chinese production.
But one cultural export in particular has spawned a new trend among China’s new rich. Call it the Downton Abbey effect. Not only did the popular period drama help boost sales of afternoon tea products from the UK, it also led to increased demand for butlers.
Great Scott, Jeeves! You?
No butler has an arguably spiffier CV than Paul Burrell. Perhaps better known in UK households for appearing on Celebrity Big Brother, Paul served the British Royal Households for 21 years, becoming personal attendant to Her Majesty The Queen and later butler to the Prince and Princess of Wales.
It doesn’t get more Downton Abbeyesque than that, and Paul (or is it Mr Burrell, or even Mr Burrell, RVM?) was in China last month to share his Royal Etiquette expertise in different sessions with local audiences that included ladies, children and business people.
The training, organised at the Ritz Carlton in Guangzhou by etiquette specialists Prestige Education Consultancy (PEC), focused on dress styling, manners and behaviour, skills gained at the very highest level by Paul Burrell and useful for mingling with the global elite.
In an increasingly competitive and “globalised” world, China’s ambitious – as in any nation – will look for an edge beyond a solid grasp of English. A student in Danong today might well become a speaker in Davos tomorrow. Anyone thinking about teaching English in China ought to consider the cultural dimension on top of language tuition.
But of course, this is a two-way street. Anyone looking to make friends and influence people in China should do the sensible thing and learn from the Chinese.
That means not only taking a course in putonghua but also making an attempt to understand their culture, from guanxi to mianzi, baijiu and beyond. It’s a steep learning curve, but so is learning which spoon to use at the dinner table (I still can’t get it right).
We can and should learn from each other – that’s when the good stuff happens. Now, who is China’s equivalent of Paul Burrell?