When the video of Wendi Deng‘s spike to the pie-thrower went viral last week, I read many accounts of what compelled her to react that way. I’m not sure it had anything to do with her Shandong roots. Maybe it was just her background as a volleyball player?
No matter, it got me thinking. After spending most of my 20s in Hong Kong and China, I picked up some habits that still pop up once in a while, even though I’ve been back in the USA for 13 years.
In China it’s so normal to talk about money (how much things cost, how much you earn, etc.) that it almost seems rude to refrain from these discussions. Of course, I wasn’t raised to talk that way. As the daughter of a university professor, it wasn’t like we had a lot to hide, but my parents taught me to be discreet when it came to money.
Yet after my years in Asia and in a Chinese family, I sometimes can’t help myself.
In recent weeks, I’ve blabbed the cost of my son’s camp, how much we’re paying for his bar mitzvah DJ, and the great deal I got on my latest qipao. Yikes.
And then there’s eating. In Hong Kong, it’s perfectly acceptable to hover above diners while they finish their meals, only to swipe their seats as soon as they stand up. I’ve seen that happen at some Chinese restaurants in the US, but never at non-Asian restaurants.
Yet a couple weeks ago, as my husband and I rushed into a restaurant before taking our seats to see David Henry Hwang’s new play, Chinglish (a must-see for anyone who’s ever heard of China), we were told the dining area was full and we could eat at the crowded bar.
So I dashed over to where a man seated next to one empty seat was about to pay for his bill. My husband gave me a WTF-are-you-doing look, but followed me anyway. Sure enough, the seated man soon stood up and–bingo–we secured two seats 20 minutes before the curtains rose. It doesn’t just work in Hong Kong.
But there are still some customs I’ve never adopted, no matter how often I came into contact with them: hacking, spitting, and the two-fingered nose blow.