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Growing up in a Chinese household, one of the things that would always come up while talking to my relatives is asking me “Did you eat yet?” I like to think of that question as one of their ways of caring for someone, and they do this in many other fashions. These habits and their relationship with food is what defines Chinese culture to be a culture of courtesy, generosity, and family.
Many of those habits can be observed every day in my family and not many of them are very significant but they do can carry a lot of sentiment. Some examples are when someone invites us for breakfast, but then they end up competing on who can pay the bill faster so that the other won’t have to. My mom would always tell me to bring fruits or candy whenever we go visit one of our relatives. Table manners are also really important such as, not eating the food until everyone is ready; if you pour your tea, you have to pour everyone else’s tea, or just simply sit together with our fist size cups of rice and chopsticks on hand surrounding our main dishes, often composed of a vegetable and a meat dish, and start eating. This is the time when we get to share our thoughts and talk to each other as a family, and all of this reflects on their generosity and courtesy.
Food is very important in Chinese culture, because it represents good health and well-being. In my family, they are not very accustomed to express affection directly, but the relationship and importance we put on food helps them express themselves in many ways, from gratitude to love. Small gestures such as inviting you for food, or making your favorite food are ways that they can express that they care about you. For example, every time we went to visit my grandmother, she would always make my mom’s favorite dish. Or one time my sister and I went to a friend’s house and they were about to have lunch, her grandmother insisted that we should eat with them even though we had already eaten. Another instance is when one of my close Chinese friends would tell me how his mother is constantly calling make sure he had already eaten and making a lot of food for him to eat. They do this because they want to know that we are healthy and eating well, and that maybe they don’t want us to feel hungry because they know how hard it is to be truly hungry.
My favorite part about Chinese food is not the taste or the presentation, it’s the intention. A few years ago I went on a nine hour trip from Guangzhou to the province of Guang Xi with my aunt, cousin, and his wife to visit her family. When we arrived, we were greeted by a small village full of chickens, mudbrick houses, and really welcoming people. Every family we visited offered us homemade meals, snacks, and drinks. And I noticed that even though they were from a different province and spoke a different dialect, the culture was still the same. They treated me like I was also a part of their family and it was a very heartwarming experience and that just shows how Chinese culture is very generous and kind.
Chinese culture is a culture of generosity, courtesy, and family, and they convey these values through food and table manners. Making your favorite food until you get tired of it or offering you food even though you don’t want it. Actions like this might seem a bit forced and can be misunderstood, but ultimately it shows that they want you to be comfortable and happy.
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