I was preparing a list for the vegetable market when I realized that our plans were changing. “It will be too difficult for you to host. We will go out to eat.” This sudden change of plans seemed personal, but I did not know that it was for my own benefit.
My husband and I had quickly turned from the hosts to the honored guests. Instead of serving a meal at our own table, we were going to an extravagant restaurant. A translator was hired, an elaborate spread of food was ordered, and we were placed at the seats for honored guests.
In that honored seat I realized that I had so much to learn about my new home.
The past 9 months have been filled with cultural differences. This sudden change of plans was just one instance. I am not an expert in deciphering all of the differences. However, in my short time here, I realized there are two key things that I need to do when cultures collide.
Understand that western culture is not the only culture
When I realized my lack of knowledge on hosting in China, I found that I had so much to learn from those around me. Instead of looking back on that day with frustration, I am thankful for the way my new friends saved me from embarrassment. I did not realize it at the time, but I truly would have been a poor host.
- I would not have known that the seat farthest from the door is the seat for honored guests.
- I would not have known, that no matter what I serve, my friends will almost always be more comfortable with chopsticks.
- I would not have known that it is embarrassing for the host to have “just enough” food.
- I would not have known that I needed fruit to end the meal.
- I would not have known that I should express concern for how my friends will return home.
Now that friends have helped me learn these things and so much more, I am learning to embrace how different this culture is from what I have always known.
Learn to embrace the culture
I have realized there is a delicate balance in embracing other cultures. There is beauty in cultures colliding, and when we learn from each other, it is even more beautiful.
Now, my husband and I love to host in our home. We love filling the table with food. We have loved embracing both cultures.
When we first arrived, I thought that my way of hosting was acceptable. However, friends and neighbors have shown me that I still have so much to learn. Not just because our cultures are different, but because the people here truly love others through hosting. It is more than a meal. It is an invitation into their family. Now when I host I do not want to temporarily adapt to the culture. Instead, I hope to adopt this aspect of their culture into my life forever.