By Sun Lee Chang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
You have survived the Thanksgiving holidays with friends and family around a dinner table.
Now, it’s time to look forward to other holidays and first of the year celebrations. If your family is like mine, it is a blend of folks of various ethnicities and nationalities. I know my sister-in-law could have used a few tips when meeting my first generation Asian parents many years ago.
Same goes for friends we have had over to my parents’ home over the years, who are not familiar with basic Asian customs. When introducing that special someone to a family gathering, it is good to have a few guidelines to avoid inadvertently giving a bad first impression.
- It never hurts to show your appreciation early on by bringing a token present or some sort of hostess present when invited over for a meal. A bouquet of flowers would work (just avoid white flowers at all costs, as it symbolizes death in many Asian countries). Even better is something sweet like chocolates or a basket of fruit (which represents good health and bountiful harvest).
- When exchanging something with someone significantly older than you, remember to use both hands. It shows respect with a capital “R”.
- Saying “Hi, Bob” to an 80-year-old man that you just met when you are 30 is a big no-no (unless they tell you to do so). Ask older persons how they wish to be addressed. Don’t assume that you can use their first names, even if that is how they are introduced. Again, it is a sign of respect.
- Chopsticks are for eating. My brother brought his girlfriend to our house many years ago for a holiday dinner, and she came with chopsticks in her hair to keep her hair bun in place. My parents thought it was the funniest thing — like putting a fork in your hair as decoration.
- Expect to take your shoes off at the door, even if they tell you to keep them on. They will likely do so to show that they don’t want to inconvenience you. Insist that you don’t want to make their floors dirty and take off those shoes. Save yourself some embarrassment and remember to wear some socks without holes, too.
- Don’t start eating until all have been served and, most importantly, wait to take that first bite until the people older than you have had a chance to do so. If you are starting to get the idea that showing respect is a big deal – that’s because it is.
- Try everything, but don’t clean your plate. If you do, they will likely keep giving you more to eat. Leaving a little bit on your plate shows you are satisfied, and that your hosts have given you enough to eat.
- Leave enough for others to partake. This is especially true of the main dishes like the fish or meat course. Even if it is the most delicious thing you have ever eaten, or even if you are starving, make sure you leave enough so that everyone at the table can try some.
- If by chance you are going out to dinner at a restaurant, don’t be surprised when there is a fight for the bill. While it is customary for the host to pay the bill, it is nonetheless considered polite to offer to pay, and sparring over the bill can cause quite a scene. Depending on the situation (take your cue from your partner), it may be a good idea to offer to pick up the tab.
- You’ve followed all the tips so far, so why not end on a high note. When it’s time to go, leave your hosts with a genuine statement of gratitude. Ducking out without doing so because they look “busy” is not going to come across well.
With these tips in mind, here’s to a stress and drama-free holiday season!
Sun Lee Chang can be reached at email@example.com.