The other night, we were baking cookies with some of our Chinese tutors. One of them, we’ll call her Xiao, was so excited to see the shapeless dough being transformed by her own hands into little reindeers, stars, and gingerpeople. She was even happier to help decorate the cookies. Our tutors were quite original in their designs. Instead of decorating with buttons and clothes, they tried to write Chinese characters in the middle of the cookies, and one person added crowns to the reindeer (which I thought was very original.) Later that night at the Christmas party, after we had eaten about one third of the cookies, Xiao was very concerned that there were still a lot of cookies left. She felt like it was an insult to us American hosts that our Chinese friends hadn’t eaten all the cookies yet. She said, “Bu hao yi si” which means, “How embarrassing.” And judging by the way she kept rubbing her belly and groaning, I could tell that she had already tried to eat more cookies than she could stomach.
So, I explained to her that cookies are not the same as Chinese dishes. In Chinese culture, it’s not common for the host to have leftovers. Usually, the guests should try their best to finish eating all the dishes. On the contrary, the expectation hosts have for cookies are not the same. And conveniently, cookies last a long time. I assured Xiao that we could eat these cookies tomorrow or even the next day, and if I had felt more ambitious in my Chinese, I would have explained that sometimes we even freeze cookies for up to 2 or 3 months. After I explained the cookie eating customs, Xiao seemed to be a little more at ease, and didn’t feel pressure to continue eating the cookies.