Wednesday, October 7, 2009

On Chinese Hospitality and Being an Honored Guest

It is a strange and humbling experience to be treated as an honored guest without having done anything to earn that honor. My student and her family bent over backwards to welcome me. At times, I found the attention overwhelming, overbearing, and a little irritating. For example, when we went to the seaside at Qingdao, all day long I was given things and expected to enjoy them: "Here, catch these sand crabs! Here, take this birdseed and join the children feeding the pigeons! Here, take some more! Here, we bought you this ice cream treat! Now it's lunchtime -- eat more food! Isn't Qingdao beautiful? Isn't it more beautiful than Qufu? Here, take these aquarium tickets and go enjoy yourself! Here, eat this mooncake! We're home now, and you must be hungry. Fortunately, you can have... More crab!" It seems funny now, but that day I was tired of having so many things forced on me without being asked what I wanted to do, what I wanted to eat, and where I wanted to go.

For the most part, though, I really appreciated their warm hospitality. Americans could learn a thing or two about hospitality from Eastern cultures. For us, having a guest is either a pleasant diversion or a minor inconvenience. For a Chinese person, having a guest is an honor, and they treat their guests as such. My student and her family took care of me and honored me in many ways: they arranged my travel to and from Qingdao, they heaped my bed with blankets and my plate with food, they asked me about my family and my culture, they practiced my name before I arrived so they could say it correctly, their faces lit up with I arrived, and they invited me to come back any time. How many American families welcome strangers like this, especially over the holidays?

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