“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.
“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.
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.
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.