“You’re my guest”
Boqian, my Chinese student, insists on paying for me wherever we go. He says it’s Chinese culture to treat guests in this way. “You are in my home town, so I treat you because you are my guest.”
I am of two minds about this part of Chinese culture. On one hand it is nice to be received with such hospitality and it makes a lot of sense to receive a visitor in this way. On the other hand, the extreme generosity is a bit unsettling to my American mind. I find myself wondering whether my hosts expect something in return (and if I will be able to “repay” them in some way down the road), whether they really want to treat me or if they are just being nice and expecting me to refuse (but then if I refuse will that be offensive to them?).
I also wonder whether I am receiving their kindness graciously enough. A number of times I have insisted on paying and a few times even beat him to it, so he had no choice but to let me pay. I’ve seen Chinese people do this—they argue with each other about who will pay for the meal until one person finally wins, which doesn’t seem like gracious acceptance to me, rather it appears to be a show of refusal until the very last moment. This display confuses me further, because I honestly don’t know if that’s what is expected of me.
I finally leveled with Boqian this evening and told him that I was having a cultural dilemma and that I needed his advice. His cousin insisted on buying my plane ticket to Shanghai, which I considered to be crossing a line—I judged that was way to much. I told him so and explained that I was perplexed about the situation. I asked what he would do if he were in my place. His answer was to accept it graciously and gratefully because I had been taking care of Boqian in the United States and maybe someday I would be in a position to treat him with similar hospitality if he happens to visit my home town in the future.
So, I accepted their generosity with grace and gratitude. It’s not easy for me to allow someone to pay for me. It’s so different from my own culture where we tend to split the bill and where the cost of things can be a very sensitive issue.