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A Sommelier and His Wine
Foreigners in China
By Cool Han

If you are a French Learner in China, if you are a French living in China, I bet you know a place named “Centre culturel français” French Culture Center in Chaoyang District. A well-designed multimedia library, a classy book store, a French language training school “Alliance Française”, as well as a nice Café named 'Lumière'.

Raphael Sarri, a French man who has been living in China for more than two years is the manager of this exquisite café 'Lumière'. The name of this café easily reminds people of an invention originated by French people contributing to the modernity of this world. More than one hundred years ago, on December 8th, 1895, Lumière Brothers' Cinematograph projections of 50-seconds scenes were first on display at the Grand Café in Paris, which was believed to be the first movie in the world. To be frank, Raphael’s career has little to do with movie or cinema, but he shares a pioneer spirit with Lumière Brothers in some way.

Running café is just part of his job. A bright businessman in his early thirties, Raphael sells French wines in Beijing, and Wine has always been his major ever since college years.

Raphael told me he was a “sommelier”, an occupation which has got no proper translation in English. Basically, a sommelier, like a waiter in restaurant, is in charge of wines and wine service. But French people are not satisfied with this translation because in their minds “sommelier” is much more than a wine steward. One has to get a certificate before becoming a sommelier, thus it requires professional skills. Sommeliers are responsible for choosing and buying wines in a hotel or restaurant. More importantly, they are the persons who select proper wines accordant with guests’ dishes.

Rapahel is a sommelier who has a strong passion for his job. Indulging himself in the world of wines since college year, he confessed that college education gave him no real vision of appreciating wines. “I don’t use the knowledge in the school, I forget them all.” But since then, his life has been all about wines. After graduate, he took training courses in Ireland for four years before working as sommelier in a French restaurant.

As known to all, France is one of the oldest wine producing regions of Europe and it also produces the most wine by value in the world. Although Italy rivals it by volume and Spain has more land under cultivation for wine grapes, “French Wine”, like a golden brand, win customers’ hearts and souls as well as their tongues and noses. Famous as it is, an undeniable truth is that even as recently as 1950s, the typical French person drank only local wine and, although proud of France's reputation for making some of the world's outstanding wines, knew relatively little about them.

Sommeliers, like a bridge, combine grape farmers, wineries and customers together. “AOC Champagne” or “VDT de Bourgogne”, “White Brut Sparkling” or “Dry Red”, jargons like these might be hard to understand by laity, but they are every day used languages of those experts and specialists. The temperate, the season, the latitude; the color, the nose, the aroma, they know everything about a nice wine.
I asked Rapahel why choose China to continue his career, he said he came to China because of his wife: “My wife is working for the French embassy in China.” And a more business-oriented reason is, “It is quite difficult to make money in France.” Due to slow economic growth, many workers complained about their long working hours and low pay which severely impeded business in France. “You need to take the advantage of freedom and right, but you’d better know the limit.”

“France is a boring country.” He added. And that really confused me. The whole French Culture Center is functioned like a window promoting the essence of French culture and splendor of this country. But this French guy sitting in front of me just told me that France was a boring country. “Of course I love my country: it is a nice country, culture, history and civilization. But you don’t live by history. You live at present. And I don’t think I can make any money in France.” Since arriving in China, he found “Earning money in China is easier than in France”. That’s the real reason he chose China.

Maybe before he came here, he had no idea what to expect, but then, the great unknown can be what makes a job like sommelier in China unique and appealing. Just like that story, two salesmen came to Africa to sell their shoes. Seeing nobody wear shoes in this continent, one turned back crying: “Oh my God, no one needs shoes.” His counterpart stared and smiled: “Great, I can make everyone buying shoes from me.”

Doing business in China, Raphael felt he enjoyed more freedom. He can decide the way of arranging business, additionally, as a specialist, he takes advantage of his knowledge and running a successful business in China. He has just merged his two companies into one and found a place to open a new wine shop. Wine industry is booming in China with more affluent Chinese middle class upgrading their living standards and lifestyles. It is an opportunity for a sommelier like Raphael to take his skills and experiences where they are urgently wanted.

It seems that profit should always be the No.1 rule of business. But Raphael said being rich was not his permanent goal of life. “I’m not looking to be very rich. Selling wines, running companies, what I am doing, I like it and enjoy it. If I can earn a little bit money to make a good life, that’s enough.”

He claimed he will stay in China for a fairly long time. His three-year-old daughter Garla speaks perfect Beijing dialect thanks to their “Ayi” who is a Beijinger. His son, an eight-month baby was born in Beijing. Getting a Chinese nationality is impossible, but becoming a ‘New Beijnger’ can very well be of his future. Their father decided to send them to Chinese kindergarten, which made it quite easy for them to learn Chinese well and make Chinese friends.

During our talk, I found Raphael preferred using French than English. When he couldn’t find appropriate English words, he used French and Linda interpreted them into Chinese. “Can you speak Chinese?” I asked. “Very well—when I’m drunk.” Both of us laughed. “I’m very busy, so I have no time to learn Chinese. I think it is very necessary to learn Chinese, but when I started my company, I have to stop the course with my teacher.” Paused for one second, he said: “I’m learning Chinese with my daughter now.” That’s a great idea.

It was Sunday afternoon. Raphael seated in the red sofa in his café, not as a manager, but as a guest. He said he was going to leave after the interview, to stay with his daughter. A veteran sommelier is an expert of wine, but not language. Garla, his dear daughter, is waiting for him—her daddy and her first student.










    他补充说:“法国缺乏活力。”这一点让我颇为困惑。 正如一扇窗口,整个法国文化中心旨在宣传法国文化的精髓和国家的瑰丽。然而这个坐在面前的法国人却告诉我“法国很闷”。“我爱自己的国家,文化深厚,历史丰富。但是人活在当下,而不是历史中。在法国我很难赚到钱。”来到中国以后,发发现赚钱要比在法国容易。这才是他到中国的真正原因。








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