Tonight I went to dinner with one of my students’ families. I was apprehensive about the whole thing because I wanted to make a good impression, but I know nothing of Chinese etiquette or what might be expected of me as a guest. So it was only natural that, within two minutes of sitting down with my food, I spit it out. R.I.P. Emily Post.
Let me back up. I was under the impression that I’d be going to my student’s home for a family dinner, but he texted me with a time and hotel when I asked for directions. I couldn’t find the hotel’s address in Chinese characters big enough for me to copy down (my phone doesn’t display characters) so I asked my roommates the Chinese word for hotel, hoped I could pronounce it well enough, and set out into the night. You might think I have some great story to relay about the misadventure of getting myself to this unknown location, but no. As soon as I hopped out of my apartment a taxi pulled up; I hopped in after the last passenger and said “Hi-ching Geo-dan” and with the driver’s reassuringly knowing reiteration of my words in an authentic tongue I was off to my destination, no questions asked.
My student’s text had described our meeting place as, “Building A Floor 1 cafeteria,” which brought to mind high school lunches and other unfortunate associations, but the hotel was actually gorgeous and the dining room equal parts pomp and circumstance (also serving a buffet). I haven’t been so full since coming to China. That being said, the first thing I helped myself to was some salmon that I didn’t realize was chock full of bones. I got it back to the table, took one bite, and immediately let it fall back onto my plate. No one seemed to notice, astoundingly. Good thing it’s off-season and the room was sparsely populated.
Highlights of the conversation included the father asking what I thought of Qingdao girls and suggesting that I take a wife, and the back story of his English name, which he took five years ago while starting to teach himself English. He chose the name, Roy, after reading a story in his book that involved a truck driver named Roy who stopped a thief (as best he could remember it). “Roy is a hero to me,” he said. Roy, after treating me to a buffet with steak and ten kinds of dessert, you’re a hero to me too.
While our conversation was a bit lacking as neither parent spoke much English (the mother only as much as I know of Chinese, so basically she smiled a lot and said “Thank you”), the evening was still very enjoyable and I don’t think I disgraced my family anymore than usual. For any anthropologists in the audience, the one major observation I have to offer is that chewing with your mouth closed is definitely optional in China. Oh, and they know us Westerners “always like the desert,” of which I took three servings. I may have skewed their findings.