Okay, so this might fall into the old race lines or the defining lines between cultures or culture clashes or whatever. Anyway, my roommates and I are having a housewarming party. We’re all saying ‘potluck’. We’re all happy with that. But, I insist on also providing a lot of the dishes. They protest. “People will bring food to the potluck!” they cry. I agree. But as I try to explain to them, from my upbringing, it’s shameful to have too little food or very little food. A successful party -once again from my upbringing which may or may not be filipino- is one where every guest not only EATS a lot, but also TAKES HOME a lot. It is not unusual for guests -once again from my family and my extended family and my friend’s family parties- to take home 3-4 plates of food and/or buckets of leftovers wrapped in tin foil. It’s what I considered normal. It’s what I consider loving my guests. Everyone goes home and eats leftovers for 3 days. It’s what I’ve come to expect. It makes me very nervous to try their idea of potluck, where everyone brings something (what if they only bring potato chips?!? Fear!!!) and everyone eats just enough, but doesn’t bring home food. And it’s one of those moments where I wonder if it’s because I’m raised filipino, that we think differently… but I’m not sure.
What incidents have you experienced which were perhaps a culture clash, but wasn’t quite sure if it was?
ROGER: Here’s one – going out to eat at a nice restaurant with a bunch of Asian Americans IN ASIA. Why? More often than not, culturally, the Asian Americans tend to split the bill – even in big groups. It’s a very American thing and is totally an acceptable practice, perhaps even expected, in the United States. But in Asia, at nice restaurants and in bigger groups, almost always, one person picks up the bill (though there is usually the customary fight amongst a noble few vying for the honor of paying – a sight you almost never see in America). So I always find it funny to watch the faces of the wait staff and management at Asian restaurants in Asia when a bunch of Asian Americans are rummaging through their purses and wallets to find a few bills to cover their share of the group meal. It’s like they’re witnessing a social taboo, something foreign, or the birth of a space alien. Now I’m not saying this happens at all the restaurants in Asia. But if you go to some of the nicer establishments and go in bigger groups, going dutch tends to be something much less common and something the locals are not completely used to. Ahh yes…so many Asians, so many different persuasions.
ALFREDO: When fellow Offender Justin and I were in Japan working on “Tokyo Drift,” we interviewed a real live Yakuza gangster as part of our research for the film. I remember our local Japanese translator/go-between telling us how important it was to respect the man’s business card (who knew mobsters had business cards?!). In Japan, apparently, when someone gives you their card, you don’t just stick it in your wallet. You look at it closely, respectfully, you read it, and you don’t put it in your pocket until the end of the meeting. Sure enough, as the meeting began, the Yakuza handed each of us his business card. There were a couple surly looking teens in the room keeping an eye on us, and the man himself exuded a latent menace, the kind of thing where if you accidentally insulted him or stared at his girlfriend too long, you’d find yourself on the wrong end of a baseball bat. At least that’s how I saw it. So I held the man’s card in the air, pretending I could read Japanese (for all I know, I was holding it upside down), and then placed it carefully, squarely, reverentially, on the table in front of me, and I may have even bowed to it, I don’t remember. As the meeting wrapped up, I didn’t dare put it in my pocket. I held it in front of me with two hands like a newborn baby and walked it all the way back to the hotel. Today it resides in a bomb proof plastic sleeve in a locked drawer.
PHILIP: As a kid having my white friends come over, open the fridge, be slammed by the whiff of kimchi and go, “What the fuck is that?” Is that a cultural clash?
ANDERSON: Maybe this is a Hawaii thing, but when we do backyard barbeques, the host provides tons of meat and food, but guests also bring stuff over. It’s the whole potluck thing. But when I’ve attended barbeques on the mainland, people tend to bring their own meat for the grill and don’t really share it. For example, a couple of people brought some sausages and they threw them on the grill. Those sausages did look tasty. But when they were cooked, those sausage dudes didn’t share it with anyone. I noticed that other people were very territorial with their meat. It was weird.
DHH: Many years ago, I was dating this girl who was white, and the time came to meet her family: her Mom, older brother, and sister-in-law came out to dinner with my girlfriend and me. Unlike Roger, I was brought up by my immigrant Shanghainese father to grab for the bill. So at the end of the meal, I did just that. Since no one else at the table was Asian, I ended up paying. Afterwards, her Mother told my girlfriend that she was sorta offended by what I’d done — did I think her family didn’t have enough money to pay for themselves? As it turns out, the girlfriend became my wife, and my Mother-in-law has been very loving to me over the past 20 years, so we got over that hurdle. But I don’t think a Chinese Mom would’ve been so taken aback if her daughter’s boyfriend had picked up a check.
ROGER: Hey, mom and dad brought me up to pick up the bill too, DHH. And they taught me how to beat off all those who contested with a fierce monkey-style, Formosan, Hakkanese, sweet & sour, one shot, death kata. Which proves exceptionally helpful when dating the Korean woman – an exceptionally beautiful yet unpredictably deadly lineage of woman much like the lionfish.
IRIS: Japanese funerals, I have discovered, are very different from American funerals. While living in Japan, I discovered that you do not just send a sympathy card. You need to give funeral money (koden) in a specific envelope. Then, in return, the family of the deceased sends back gifts. It seemed very odd, but I received a white handkerchief that was nicely wrapped by the department store. When my father died and my sister and I had to arrange his funeral, we received money, as is the Japanese tradition and we were at a loss as to what we were supposed to send back. The Japanese funeral arranger told us that with Japanese Americans, the tradition is to send back a book of postage stamps. I guess everyone can use postage stamps? Interesting that this tradition seems to have evolved as a strictly Japanese-American tradition. But we still have many relatives in Japan who also sent money and obviously, they wouldn’t be able to use U.S. postage stamps. So I fretted for a while, even looked for handkerchiefs, which are nonexistent here. I finally asked my uncle in Japan what we ought to send and he let us know that sending a box of fruits from a gift company would work. There are a few established Japanese companies that specialize in gifts between Japan and the U.S. They make a killing because it would be unacceptable to just send something yourself that wasn’t nicely packaged. In general, there’s a lot of etiquette involving gifts in Japan.
SUNG: I once went out to dinner with a guy from Korea and his wife. It was some type of business thing, we weren’t friends. Dinner went well, we shared laughs and got to know one another like people do over dinner. We finished up and started to say our goodbyes. I gave the guy a friendly, less formal shake and chest bump and then I gave his wife a hug. However, something wasn’t right. The wife stiffened up like I was trying to grab her very purse. Her eyes squinted up and her body shot up like a stiff wooden board. I looked over at her husband and he just smiled uncomfortably. I then realized Koreans don’t do hug strangers. They bow. Whatever, I got some. Ha!
QUENTIN: We face cultural clashes on all levels, whether it is between generations, between ethnicities, or between nationalities. I was lucky enough to be raised to eat many foods by my parents. As a kid, they would take me to all kinds of cuisines from Chinese to Thai to American to French to Greek… you name it. My palate is quite diverse. I realize that the Chinese food that North Americans like are quite different from the Chinese food I like. However, talking about cultural clashes… I was in Pusan pitching Campus Ghost Story with my producer to these Korean financiers. First they took us out to Korean beef BBQ, and my producer was a prescatarian. The financiers asked us if we liked fish. Sure, we said. We went to a restaurant where they served nothing but blow fish. We were like we weren’t sure if we wanted to eat blow fish on our first day in town. Then they took us to “sushi” on the beach of Pusan. Sure, we loved sushi but not the same kind. The sushi restaurant served all kinds of raw fish that moved. We were trying to pick at it but couldn’t eat it. Then behind my producer there were these fish tanks. One tank had squids in it. Next to it was a tank full of some nasty big fish. A squid jumped out from its tank into the other tank. Right in front of my eyes, a nasty fish bit the squid in half and severed it. The remaining squid carcass jumped out of the tank and landed right next to my producer who screamed in horror. Lord, these Korean financiers were looking at us like we were the most difficult Americans ever.
Sung, I think you were on that trip too.
DHH: Apologies, Roger. Didn’t mean to cast aspersions on your upbringing!
I’m in a dance group, and love my fellow dancers (mostly Latinos) for their friendliness and openness. That said, I’m not used to being as physically polite/sweet (for lack of a better term) as they are – at the beginning of class/rehearsal, each person makes a round of the room upon entering, giving a cheek kiss to each individual. The same thing happens when everyone leaves for the night – we’re sticky and sweaty, but you still place your cheek on someone else’s and bid them a good night.
One of my classmates is trying to train me to receive and dish out the cheek greetings properly, so he barks affable criticism at me when I do the cold fish cheek greet. I tried to welcome someone new to the group the other day, but only got within 10 inches of his face, from where I, instead of doing a cheek-kiss, just paused for a second, and then went on my way. He must have thought it was odd of me to hover and then walk away giggling.
On another note, I visited Taiwan this past April. I had dinner with my mom’s side of the family (two uncles, their wives, one aunt, her husband, two cousins). I tried to hug each of them at the end of the evening and they pretty much all recoiled in horror.
ELAINE: Like Sung and Emmie, I’ve also gotten flak for hugging. My immigrant mother thinks I’m “too friendly” with acquaintances which is a euphemism for being a hug slut. Regarding dinner table etiquette – it’s all about showing that Confucian respect so, kids initiate serving the grandparents or elder folk, you eat everything that is put on your plate, you never grab for the last or best piece of food and instead, offer it to someone else. That said, I’m not sure how and when belching and cleaning teeth out with toothpicks post meal became customary.