Spending holidays abroad is always interesting, especially when you intermix it with different cultures. This year, I spent Christmas in Shanghai with American, Australian, Chinese, and Swiss friends. My Australian couple friends graciously opened up their expat pad to host a lovely Christmas. Thanks to Fields China, we had a full Christmas feast delivered with very little efforts. To add a touch of homemade flavor, I whipped up some eggnog.
Christmas turned out to be surprisingly lovely, and even an interesting culture angle given my Australian friends’ Chinese house guests. Apparently, the Chinese view Christmas as a day to par-tay! I think their house guests were hoping for some KTV (karaoke) good times and were thoroughly disappointed when they realized that all we were doing were eating and watching holiday movies (mind you, I fetched Chinese subtitles for them!).
Some of the interesting culture differences included: on Christmas morning, Australian hostess graciously gave everyone stockings that had been filled with goodies. Chinese couple reacted, “We have no use for this.” Clearly, they did not understand the concept of stockings and did not realize that no one has any use for them, but that is not the point. Later, I poured some eggnog for them to try, and the faces that they made were so terrible, I had to remind myself to not take it personally. Just because people like chicken feet doesn’t mean they also enjoy rummy goodness. Finally, Christmas lunch was served, and we asked if they like the food. No polite “oh, it’s not bad”, but instead, “no, we don’t eat this stuff.”…. whomp whomp.
The experience makes me appreciate globalization and the opportunities to encounter many cultures. It was clear that these Chinese guests have not mastered the art of American polite fake-ness of saying “oh, it’s interesting” to every disgusting food item that has ever been fed. But, baby steps. We have fulfilled our duties to expose a small piece of our Western culture to our Chinese friends. As well as educating the locals that Christmas, opposite to Chinese beliefs, is much like their Spring Festival and not a day to go buck wild for the Westerners. (I had many questions from local friends on what crazy parties I went to on Christmas…)
Christmas is indeed a time with friends and families. I was grateful for my new friends and finding such warmth in a country that does not celebrate Christmas except in fancy shopping malls. I used to think Christmas was over-commercialized in U.S. and Europe until I moved to Shanghai. Christmas in Shanghai can be best described as Christmas on luxury crack. You may walk down a local street and see not a trace of the holiday, and then cross over to the shopping area and find that Christmas decorations have been vomited all over town. Now, that’s an over-commercialized Christmas. I guess I will take what I can get.
But just when I think the Chinese have no Christmas spirit, I spotted a group of students in full-blown Santa suits on the Shanghai subway on Christmas Eve. Et voilà, that’s China for you – always full of surprises!