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11/23/2016

Dinner Time in China——My Study Abroad Experience in Nanjing By Iris Parshley

My first few weeks living with my host family in China I observed many different habits and traditions during meal times. The first night I stayed with my family, they invited a few friends and family members to eat dinner with us. My host grandmother and host mother prepared about 15 dishes for the guests. My host parents offered me beer and wine. The men drank hard liquor and warm beer, while the women drank wine or beer. Water was not served at the table with dinner, and the children were given juice. My host family does not have a lazy-Susan, so the dishes were placed in the middle of the round table and overlapped each other. Occasionally the dishes were switched so that everyone could try all the food.

IMG_0288_副本

Iris Parshley(left) and her Chinese tutor     

 

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   A toast and drink started the meal. Throughout the casual meal, the men clinked glasses before they drank, but everyone else drank freely. I was given a bowl of rice and a pair of chopsticks and told to eat. Before coming to China, I knew that families usually ate “family-style” by picking up small bites and eating them with rice, so that was not a surprise to me. What did surprise me was the fact that everyone spit bones and shells straight onto the table. By the end of the meal, there were empty bowls, plates of extra food, empty glasses, and undesirable parts of food covering the table.

       Even though I couldn’t understand much of the conversation at dinner, I smiled, drank, ate, and felt welcome. It was a loud but comfortable dinner. The dinner seemed similar to a family gathering I would attend in the United States. There was lots of conversation and laughter.

       A few weeks later, my host father took me to a fancy Tibetan restaurant for a formal dinner with a few coworkers. We went out on Teacher’s Day and were honoring an English professor and her husband. The women sat on one side of the table while the men sat across the table, and the honored guests sat furthest from the door. I noticed that all the men brought a pack of cigarettes and alcohol to share. The women were given red wine while the men drank shots of 白酒. The honored guests were given the most alcohol. The meal started with a toast to the honored guests, and during the meal, a lot of toasts were made to honor each person at the table. Many times during a toast between two or three people, they would get up and walk around the table to clink glasses and chat for a little while. Water was consumed if no one was toasting. Only the men smoked; they each shared their cigarettes with the other men and often offered to light the other’s cigarettes. The food was first given to the professor or her husband then passed around using the lazy-Susan. There was no spitting onto the table at the restaurant, and everyone had individual plates and bowls they could use for the bones.

       The formal dinner practices seemed rooted in Chinese cultural traditions. I think that toasting and giving the first bite of food to the elders was showing respect for the elders. Sharing the cigarettes seemed like a show of wealth; if a man could afford a pleasure item such as tobacco, he must have a stable job and be able to support his family. I believe the large flow of alcohol was for a similar reason. In the United States, usually the person being honored (for a birthday party or celebration) or their family pays the bill, but in China, the honored guests do not pay. This reminds me of the collectivism ideology in China; in the US, the host invites others to their personal party (the party is centered around the host), while in China, the guests are invited to another’s party to be honored (the host celebrates others).

       I realized a common global tradition is bonding with friends and family over meals and food. In both meals that I described, there was conversation, laughter, and a lot of food and drinks, which reminded me of home. Although both formal and informal meals were in different settings, both were at round tables with friends and family, and everyone used chopsticks. Whether it is formally or informally, all people must eat and tend to enjoy it most when it is with loved ones.

My first few weeks living with my host family in China I observed many different habits and traditions during meal times. The first night I stayed with my family, they invited a few friends and family members to eat dinner with us. My host grandmother and host mother prepared about 15 dishes for the guests. My host parents offered me beer and wine. The men drank hard liquor and warm beer, while the women drank wine or beer. Water was not served at the table with dinner, and the children were given juice. My host family does not have a lazy-Susan, so the dishes were placed in the middle of the round table and overlapped each other. Occasionally the dishes were switched so that everyone could try all the food.

       A toast and drink started the meal. Throughout the casual meal, the men clinked glasses before they drank, but everyone else drank freely. I was given a bowl of rice and a pair of chopsticks and told to eat. Before coming to China, I knew that families usually ate “family-style” by picking up small bites and eating them with rice, so that was not a surprise to me. What did surprise me was the fact that everyone spit bones and shells straight onto the table. By the end of the meal, there were empty bowls, plates of extra food, empty glasses, and undesirable parts of food covering the table.

       Even though I couldn’t understand much of the conversation at dinner, I smiled, drank, ate, and felt welcome. It was a loud but comfortable dinner. The dinner seemed similar to a family gathering I would attend in the United States. There was lots of conversation and laughter.

       A few weeks later, my host father took me to a fancy Tibetan restaurant for a formal dinner with a few coworkers. We went out on Teacher’s Day and were honoring an English professor and her husband. The women sat on one side of the table while the men sat across the table, and the honored guests sat furthest from the door. I noticed that all the men brought a pack of cigarettes and alcohol to share. The women were given red wine while the men drank shots of 白酒. The honored guests were given the most alcohol. The meal started with a toast to the honored guests, and during the meal, a lot of toasts were made to honor each person at the table. Many times during a toast between two or three people, they would get up and walk around the table to clink glasses and chat for a little while. Water was consumed if no one was toasting. Only the men smoked; they each shared their cigarettes with the other men and often offered to light the other’s cigarettes. The food was first given to the professor or her husband then passed around using the lazy-Susan. There was no spitting onto the table at the restaurant, and everyone had individual plates and bowls they could use for the bones.

       The formal dinner practices seemed rooted in Chinese cultural traditions. I think that toasting and giving the first bite of food to the elders was showing respect for the elders. Sharing the cigarettes seemed like a show of wealth; if a man could afford a pleasure item such as tobacco, he must have a stable job and be able to support his family. I believe the large flow of alcohol was for a similar reason. In the United States, usually the person being honored (for a birthday party or celebration) or their family pays the bill, but in China, the honored guests do not pay. This reminds me of the collectivism ideology in China; in the US, the host invites others to their personal party (the party is centered around the host), while in China, the guests are invited to another’s party to be honored (the host celebrates others).

       I realized a common global tradition is bonding with friends and family over meals and food. In both meals that I described, there was conversation, laughter, and a lot of food and drinks, which reminded me of home. Although both formal and informal meals were in different settings, both were at round tables with friends and family, and everyone used chopsticks. Whether it is formally or informally, all people must eat and tend to enjoy it most when it is with loved ones.

A toast and drink started the meal. Throughout the casual meal, the men clinked glasses before they drank, but everyone else drank freely. I was given a bowl of rice and a pair of chopsticks and told to eat. Before coming to China, I knew that families usually ate “family-style” by picking up small bites and eating them with rice, so that was not a surprise to me. What did surprise me was the fact that everyone spit bones and shells straight onto the table. By the end of the meal, there were empty bowls, plates of extra food, empty glasses, and undesirable parts of food covering the table.

       Even though I couldn’t understand much of the conversation at dinner, I smiled, drank, ate, and felt welcome. It was a loud but comfortable dinner. The dinner seemed similar to a family gathering I would attend in the United States. There was lots of conversation and laughter.

       A few weeks later, my host father took me to a fancy Tibetan restaurant for a formal dinner with a few coworkers. We went out on Teacher’s Day and were honoring an English professor and her husband. The women sat on one side of the table while the men sat across the table, and the honored guests sat furthest from the door. I noticed that all the men brought a pack of cigarettes and alcohol to share. The women were given red wine while the men drank shots of 白酒. The honored guests were given the most alcohol. The meal started with a toast to the honored guests, and during the meal, a lot of toasts were made to honor each person at the table. Many times during a toast between two or three people, they would get up and walk around the table to clink glasses and chat for a little while. Water was consumed if no one was toasting. Only the men smoked; they each shared their cigarettes with the other men and often offered to light the other’s cigarettes. The food was first given to the professor or her husband then passed around using the lazy-Susan. There was no spitting onto the table at the restaurant, and everyone had individual plates and bowls they could use for the bones.

       The formal dinner practices seemed rooted in Chinese cultural traditions. I think that toasting and giving the first bite of food to the elders was showing respect for the elders. Sharing the cigarettes seemed like a show of wealth; if a man could afford a pleasure item such as tobacco, he must have a stable job and be able to support his family. I believe the large flow of alcohol was for a similar reason. In the United States, usually the person being honored (for a birthday party or celebration) or their family pays the bill, but in China, the honored guests do not pay. This reminds me of the collectivism ideology in China; in the US, the host invites others to their personal party (the party is centered around the host), while in China, the guests are invited to another’s party to be honored (the host celebrates others).

       I realized a common global tradition is bonding with friends and family over meals and food. In both meals that I described, there was conversation, laughter, and a lot of food and drinks, which reminded me of home. Although both formal and informal meals were in different settings, both were at round tables with friends and family, and everyone used chopsticks. Whether it is formally or informally, all people must eat and tend to enjoy it most when it is with loved ones.

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