The stereotype of American Grandmothers pushing food upon guests can’t hold a candle to a Chinese household. Being either invited out to a restaurant with a Chinese family or being invited over to their house in both an honor and an ordeal. From my understanding, having excess food at a dinner table is always respectful to the guest and a sign of status that they can afford so much good food. I am also under the impression that is the goal of the family to make sure that you are as full as physically possible when you leave dinner table.
Let me tell you about my experience going to my language partner’s house tonight. My language partner is someone whom I meet with a few times a week and we do various activities around Kunming while practicing Chinese. Tonight she invited me over to dinner to meet her mother, two-year-old daughter, and husband. The menu was a variety of Yunnan specialties including salty pork, mushrooms, slightly spicy potatoes, a green veggie of some sort, a red flower dish, a deep fried beanstalk, a red bean chili like thing, and rice. In short, there was no shortage of food for four people and a toddler. Soon after walking in the door, my language partner’s husband offered me cup of green tea, also pouring one for himself. After trying to talk to the toddler for a few minutes, which was difficult because the toddler is learning a Chinese dialect and not mandarin, we sat down for dinner. I had mentioned early that I didn’t eat too much spicy food.
The meal began by the grandmother making me try every dish, making sure that I thought that it wasn’t too spicy. Most of the dishes had a little bit of spice, but not too much to handle. After trying all of them, I told the family (using Chinese) that I thought it was all-great and we all started to dig in. After eating my fill, I started to slow down. But that was when they started to feed me. I kept taking small portions of food long after everyone else had stopped. As I stopped taking food, the Grandmother started grabbing portions and putting them in my bowl. After telling her politely “wo bao le” (I’m full), she told me I ate like a bird and should eat more. I took a few more rounds of my pronouncing that I was full and her filling my bowl with more delicious food to get her to ease up.
My real relief came when the toddler fell asleep in her chair and the grandmother picked her up to put her to bed. After that it was just my language partner, her husband, and I. They asked me again if I was full, and after emphatically telling them that I was in fact very full, they cleared began clearing the table. I tried to help and was promptly told to sit back down and make myself comfortable. I thought I was in the clear when all of the food had disappeared into the kitchen, but then they brought the teapot back out. As we chatted for the next hour in Chinese, they kept refilling my tea. Telling me that I had to try it again and again to taste the different mini brews of tea. And the barrage of tea didn’t end after I said I was full. As we chatted more and more tea just kept coming. When I took a small sip of tea, more immediately replaced it. It only ended when I had to take my leave and head home to study for my test in Chinese class tomorrow.