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China 2006

LUNCH ON THE SIDEWALK: How Embarassing!

Yu Xiumei Dec 13, 2005

When I was with our scouting team traveling in Wan Zhou for story about Three gorges Dam relocation of farmers, an environmentalist and an local NGO guy accompanied the Marketplace crew. After we finished a simple lunch in a sidewalk restaurant, the most embarrassing moment came. American colleagues were discussing who should pay the bill and how to share the bill.

For Chinese it looked really impolite – for such simple and cheap lunch foreigners had to discuss how much each should pay. The environmentalist almost offered to pay the small bill to show his discontent. He asked me “Are they short of cash? if so, we can pay the bill.” He did not really mean he want to pay the bill, it’s actually a sarcastic attitude to show he wants to insult them. I stopped him and was trying hard to explain American’s custom. But it’s still hard for him to understand – how come rich Americans discussing to pay such a cheap bill in front of their guests!

Clearly, my American collages hadn’t read the “Chinese Etiquette for Dummies.”

Here is the rule.

The payment should be done fast by the host at the end of the meal and not questioning about the price detaiL. If you are hesitating or checking whether they added the bill correctly in front of your guests, it’s a sign for Chinese that you’re not sincere to invite him/her, and you think the meal too expensive! The guests are not worth it. Chinese way of paying: pay it no matter how much it is to show how generous you are to your guests.

In some cities like Beijing and Shanghai sometimes young people go Dutch. In Chinese we call it “AA” because we imported that idea from western countries. Can anyone tell me what “AA” means?

OK. Come back next week for lesson two!

Comments please! Xiao Yu, Beijing Bureau Assistant.

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