By Stacy Nguyen
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
I’m an Asian American woman in my 30s.
True story: I was at a funeral earlier this year and there, I ran into an auntie I hadn’t seen in awhile. After a few minutes of conversation in which she caught me up on her kids and I caught her up on my parents and my life, she pensively stared at me for a long moment. I could see her looking over my clothes, my body, my hair, my face.
And then she was like, “Do you have a boyfriend?”
I was like, “Ah, no.”
And then it looked like her whole world was crushing in on itself. She also looked confused because, apparently, she had decided to herself that I was not so hideous that I couldn’t land some nice, inoffensive engineer dude to share incredible debt with, a dude to apply for a mortgage with.
She said, “Why not? I feel so sad for you.”
I wanted to be like: Don’t feel sad for me, Auntie. I mean, we’re at a funeral. You should be sad for this guy’s family.
The implication that people innocently have made to me about how sad they find my single-status used to be something that angered me.
But then I learned that you can score a lot of food when people feel sorry for you. And guys, I’m Asian. Sometimes, pride stops mattering so much when you’re getting free stuff.
1. Document, document, document!
I’m of the generation where I like to live life through my phone. I know it’s really irritating and annoying to other people sometimes, but posting consistent social media updates is a great way to keep your presence fresh in people’s minds.
A lot of my peers will curate and post pictures that illustrate how fabulous their lives are. While that is a smart way to self-market, I like to veer in the other direction.
I like to go on Snapchat and post cruddy, badly lit photos of myself scarfing down a cup of instant noodles, alone in the dark, eating over my sink at 1 a.m. I like to caption such photos with stuff like, “This only cost 10 cents! #livinglarge.” The key is striking the right balance between being just pathetic enough, and not going too far where people are like, calling you up and saying, “Hey. Are you okay? Are you going through something?”
2. Never go off-brand.
Sometimes it can’t be helped. Sometimes you do something super cool and you post about this super cool thing on social media. You will get comments flying in about how awesome your life looks.
Nip that crap in the bud.
Recently, a friend of mine commented on a photo and said I looked pretty.
I responded by reminding her that I was still inexplicably husbandless. And I punctuated that comment with sad emojis. Feel free to be creative in that way.
3. Become a master profiler.
You’ve been getting groomed for this your entire life, from the moment you were a little kid playing with rocks in the backyard, and your mom came up to you and listed all of the people she had a vendetta against because of all of these insanely detailed observations she has neatly compiled in her head.
Be that person.
I like to run through my mental rolodex of friends and family members and categorize them on a spectrum. One end is “nurturing, soft-hearted sweetie.” The other is “MF-er who counts his/her share of the dinner bill down to pennies.”
You want to focus your efforts on all the people on the soft end of the spectrum. Start connecting with them. Start sending out text messages to your auntie. Be like, “Been thinking of you! I just wanted to say, ‘Hey’!”
4. Remind everyone who is indebted to you they are indebted to you.
Life goes up and down. Sometimes we are up when others are down. I’ve had friends who’ve experienced a rough run with work and their finances over the years. And I’ve magnanimously taken them out to dinner to listen to them vent and also paid for their meals. I left most of the interactions feeling great about myself and my value as a friend. I told myself I reached out to my buddies because they were sad. I didn’t reach out because I knew I was going to cash in one day.
But I can! And I will! And you can, too!
Subtlety is key. Say stuff like, “Hey, I’m so proud of how far you’ve come! Remember back in the day when you were so torn up about work, and I took you out to dinner and paid for that steak you ate and also a glass of wine? Man, how far you’ve come!”
5. Remind your elders that you exist and that you are hungry.
It’s pretty much impossible to pay for an Asian American elder’s meal. Once, I forced my credit card onto a Claim Jumper server and took the bill away from my dad. And honestly, our relationship has not fully recovered from that.
What I do is that I tell a [soft-hearted] elder that I have been thinking of them and I would love to grab dinner or lunch to catch up. Typically, this elder is just so flattered that I have thought of them, in the midst of my busy and hip and happening life — and they probably say among themselves that my parents must have raised me right. So off to lunch we go!
And you know, remember to always reach for the check after lunch, when it comes. It makes people feel good about you.
6. Don’t forget! Someone who is one year older than you, or whose parents have a higher familial status than yours is an elder!
You probably are assuming you have to reach out to people who are your parents’ ages or older. I’m here to tell you that you don’t. The key here is that the person that you reach out to should be fairly traditional. (This is where your master profiling skills come in handy.)
I’ve personally had a lot of success with dudes who were born in another country or older female cousins who like to cook and host karaoke parties. Cast a wide net. Take risks!
7. Go to networking events
Look, I’ve organized these types of events. And I’ve attended a countless number of them. One of the foremost concerns is having enough snacks or food for people because we know that’s part of how you draw people through the door. There is always an excess amount of snacks.
If I know there’s an event I need to hit up after work, I don’t eat dinner. Because I know that the spread of crackers, dip, and crudites I’m going to destroy is my dinner.
8. Kill that sense of shame within yourself. Then, invite yourself to all of the dinner parties.
It’s actually incredible how easy this actually is. The greatest obstacle in this is yourself. The greatest obstacle is your self-doubt. I’m here to tell you that you deserve these free meals. Please repeat this to yourself over and over in a mantra until it sinks in and becomes a permanent part of your self-narrative.
There are so many ways to do this. It will take experimenting, but find the ways that feel authentic to you. Here are some of my go-to conversation starters:
“Hey, I saw that lasagna photo that you posted on Instagram! You made that? Wow! That looks amazing! You are so amazing! Will you make that for me?”
“Hey, it would be really fun if the crew got together and had a dinner party before the holidays. It’s been awhile, right? I miss those guys. Hey, will you host?”
“Dude. I’m tired and overextended and I haven’t been able to properly feed myself. Will you feed me?”
9. Take leftovers when you leave people’s houses.
The general sense I get is that a lot of people generally love to cook and they love to host — but so many of us are health conscious and worry about food waste. We all worry about eating too much as we all simultaneously worry about food going bad over time.
That’s why it’s a Nguyen-Nguyen situation, whenever I start loading up plastic containers with the food at the end of meals. My hosts are over the moon that the food they lovingly obsessed over is going to a good home, and I’m happy that I have tomorrow’s breakfast and tomorrow’s lunch. Maybe also tomorrow’s dinner.
10. Leave places imbuing people with the sense that this is all going to happen again.
I like to make my parting announcement sound like a vague threat, as well as a compliment.
“This was really fun, and the food was so amazing! Let’s do it again, please! I’ll reach out to you after the holidays to see what your schedule is like, okay?” ■
Stacy Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.