Creatures Of Our Cultures

“One or separate bills?”, the waitress asks us. She has a slight Japanese accent, but aside from her raven hair, her features are distinctly Occidental.

“One please”.

“We’re treating, Jeff”.

“Nope. You guys are in my town.”

“What does that have to do with anything?”, they ask, and threaten to leave if I pay. It does nothing to convince me or change my conviction.

“You guys are a lot more behaved than when I was your age”, says the man sitting next to us.

Thumbnail: Teppanyaki Flare 

When the bill comes around, we wrench the tray from each others hands.

“Must be odd”, the man whispers to his wife, who’s laughing at us.

But it’s not odd to me. It’s the Chinese way. Like having too much food when you’re hosting a party because to run out is the ultimate embarrassment.

To me, it’s odd when someone doesn’t offer to pay.

The same way it’s odd to hear North American people complain about their jobs. To the Chinese, a job is how you take care of your family. It doesn’t matter that it’s mindless, stressful, or hard physical labour. You’re just happy to have that opportunity. All my Canadian Chinese friends feel the same1.

This is how we were raised. It wasn’t a rule that was spoken. We learned it by watching our parents, who would clip coupons for groceries, only buy clothes on sale, re-use paper by writing over again with different coloured inks, but go out to feast with ten people then fight to pay the bill. Sometimes, they’d even get up to find the server to make a preemptive, surreptitious payment. Occasionally there were spilled drinks and soiled clothes, as the fight became physical2. I think it’s nice part of the culture to be so adamant about friendship and company.

And I’m glad to be a part of it.

  1. Aaron is probably one of the few people I know who understands. He’ll fight with me, not just over a bill when eating out, but for movies, groceries, and other sundries. []
  2. I remember a child crying once, a relative of a relative, thinking the parents were arguing with anger. []

4 comments

  1. that was a pleasure to read, if only because i am now imaging in my head various aunties and uncles duelling it out and spilling the sauce over everyone and everything.

  2. oh, that’s handy to know. I had a meal with someone who slipped out to washroom and paid for the bill on her way back to the table. (We hadn’t got to the point of finishing eating.) I had no idea she did it or why. I saw it as power / control dynamic. (She’s not Chinese but could be different culture of money.)

  3. @fathima — In addition to the pang of pride, seeing it happen is rather humourous. :)

    @Pearl — Now you know that it’s polite to fight over the bill. I have a Chinese friend who would eat out with his Caucasian friends and always offer to pay the bill. His friends would always accept. My friend eventually curbed his offers when it was obvious they didn’t understand the subtle culture differences.

    In a sense, the fact that your friend paid for the bill on the way back was a preemptive act to avoid a scene, and she was assuming that you were going to fight to pay it as well.

  4. Interesting. It might be a way to deal with eating with my folks then. In that case Dad and I always struggle over who pays the bill. If I go preemptively…hm.

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