Although every culture has customs that seem crazy to outsiders (throwing rice at the bride and groom, anyone?) every culture also has customs that just plain make sense. Here are the wonderfully logical customs I would love for my passport country to borrow from China.
1. Bringing fruit when you’re a guest
When guests come over, they invariably bring a big bag of fruit. Nothing fancy, just whatever’s fresh and in season, probably purchased at a sidewalk fruit cart on the way to your home. Bringing fruit seems so downright practical to me. So, if I come to dinner at your house and bring a watermelon, now you’ll know why.
2. Eating fruit as dessert, even at restaurants, and even when you have company over
And when I bring that watermelon, I will half-expect you to slice it up after dinner for us all to enjoy. Though there are sweets here, the concept of having “dessert” (as an actual course after a meal) is still pretty foreign in China. Even in restaurants that serve sweet dishes, they frequently gets served first or in the middle of the meal, not necessarily at the end. But, there is definitely the tradition of ending a meal with fruit. That’s certainly healthier than the American tradition of ordering a Double Fudge Salted Crack Insanity Sundae to top off dinner, right?
3. Renting your wedding dress…or three
Shortly after my wedding in the late 90s, I discovered that Chinese brides RENT their gowns, just like most Western grooms rent their tuxes. *Jaw drops in jealous astonishment.* I know some ladies out there are very sentimental and are hoping to save their dress for their daughter’s wedding, or to turn it into baptismal gowns for their babies, but again, I’m struck by how practical this is, to rent something you’re only going to wear once.
I also made the discovery that Chinese brides don’t just wear one dress. Many of them wear a white dress during part of the day, a tradition borrowed from the West. But, they will also wear the traditional red qipao, too. And some brides have a third fancy dress, usually something like a giant Cinderella ball gown in whatever color they like best. I mean, if it’s truly Your Big Day, you might as well have a couple costume changes and not be limited to white, amiright?
4. Taking wedding photos well before the big day
Speaking of weddings and fancy dresses, Chinese brides and grooms have their wedding photos taken months before the actual wedding ceremony. It’s a bit like Americans taking engagement photos, but instead of wearing jeans and cowboy boots in a golden field with their beloved rescue lab mix, the Chinese couples are decked out in their full wedding day attire. (Probably also in a golden field, though sans dog.)
While I do like the tradition of the groom not seeing the bride in her dress until she walks down the aisle –the groom’s reaction is always one of the best parts of a wedding!– I also like having the stress and effort of wedding pictures of the happy couple out of the way well before the actual wedding day.
5. Giving hongbao for weddings
Speaking of weddings yet again (last time, I promise), China as a whole saves roughly 480 million man-hours per year by not expecting the bride and groom to register anywhere, and, more importantly, not expecting wedding guests to go shopping for gifts. Everyone just brings some cash in a hongbao, and the newlyweds get to use it to pay for the wedding banquet or things for their new home. I found this a little awkward at first, especially since the full tradition is to have Auntie Madge and Cousin Ying-ying at a table at the entrance to the reception hall recording each guest’s contribution amount, but in the end, the practicality of this custom won me over.
6. Designated days for visiting family
During Chinese New Year, the biggest holiday in China, there was traditionally a set time to visit the husband’s side of the family, and then a set time to visit the wife’s side. It seems like that would make things a whole lot easier when deciding how to divvy up Christmas. Sooooo much easier.
7. Two weeks off for the biggest holiday of the year
Divvying up Christmas would also be a whole lot easier if everyone in the country also got two full weeks of vacation for Christmas, yeah?
8. Resting for a month after giving birth
I could do without the whole “don’t shower for a month” and “don’t drink cold water” parts of this tradition, but I love the expectation that the new mom will just rest and recover after giving birth. I also like the expectation that family members will be taking over the mom’s household duties like cooking and cleaning during this month, too. Having given birth twice, I can tell you that it takes at least a month to have mom and baby feel settled after the baby’s arrival.
9. Taking your shoes off at the door
This blog lists 37 reasons to leave your shoes at the door. (Reason #33: “If you are ever arrested, and they confiscate your shoes…it will seem less weird.”)
Personally, I have always loved taking my shoes off when I get home. It makes it way easier to tuck your feet up on the couch, for one thing. Now, after living in China for so long, it’s not just a matter of comfort. It also just seems gross to keep my shoes on inside. I cringe whenever I have to walk across someone’s indoor carpet in the States. (Don’t worry; you’re welcome to keep your shoes on when you visit me in the States. But I will probably take my shoes off at your door.)
10. Guys carrying their girlfriends’ purses
Note: I’m not talking about the man purses that Chinese men love to carry. I’m talking about Chinese guys hauling around their bae’s bag (which usually looks like #3 on this list) while they’re out on the town.
This makes a lot of sense because 1) guys generally have stronger arms than girls, even if the girl has fabulous guns, and 2) girls’ bags generally weigh more than the girl herself. This becomes even truer after 3) they have kids and now the girl has to lug around all manner of kid crap, too, like half-licked lollipops, broken crayons, and wads of clay that “no, Mommy, we can’t throw away!” Not speaking from personal experience or anything.
I think all of these make a lot of sense and would make life easier in the States. Don’t worry, I have a nice long list of practical customs I’d like China to import from the U.S., starting with WAITING PATIENTLY IN LINE.