Pay Up

Several years ago at the West Coast Chinese Family Camp (WCCFC), I performed in a skit (I know, I know…) about modern Chinese customs. One of the funniest bits was our version of fighting for the bill at the restaurant. Chinese are known to go to great lengths to pay. There is a whole playbook of how to get away with paying for a meal. My favorite: the “I’m going to the bathroom” trick where one pretends to excuse themselves to the restroom when really they are paying for the meal behind everyone’s back.

But what drives this notion to want to pay for the meal? The Chinese, known for being particularly stingy, suddenly open up their wallets willingly to treat others? Is it that the non-payers now owe something to the payer? Is it a matter of respect? The Chinese use a term for this that doesn’t really translate well: “hac-hay,” meaning a combination of being overly kind and giving toward the other parties in a good way, sorta (so, I suck at translating…).

Just as there are rules about who pays in the modern world: the inviter pays unless the inviter is female, then the male at least attempts to pay. The college rule is that the bill is almost always split. The Chinese rule? Well, the elder almost always ends up paying even if you fight for the bill as noted above. Age has everything to do with it. As a young person, I can’t pay for anything even if I tried. Is that wrong? No, cosmically it works out that I will be paying for the next generation when I get old. In return, the expectation is that the young will look after the old (my mother firmly believes in this one: she once said that she’s not worried about government social security running out because that is my job…).

See you when I get back to San Francisco!