Tag Archives: hospitality

Cantonese hospitality custom

The informant is a USC student and friend of mine from Bangkok, Thailand whose family is Cantonese. She came over to make dumplings at my house, and while we were eating, she kept putting dumplings on my plate for me. This is what she told me when I asked her why she was doing that.
“In cantonese culture, when you’re sharing a meal with someone, you would have all the plates with food on them, for example, like all the dumplings would be in one plate–if you’re sharing dumplings with someone, you would always take the dumpling, dip it in the sauce, and put it on their plate, and then you would get one for yourself. And when you finish yours, you put another one on their plate. And then, when you get to the last one, you have to put it on their plate, so they get to eat it.”
I found that this was an interesting custom that seemed to reflect something I have seen in many cultures, specifically non-Western ones; many cultures emphasize the importance of serving others before yourself, or respecting others before yourself. I have seen this reflected in my own Ethiopian culture, which emphasizes the importance of attending to others before yourself in almost everything from serving food to giving houseguests your bed and sleeping on the couch or floor. This custom is also part of a larger customary lore that exists almost everywhere but seems to emerge more when people move away from their home countries: when engaging in the customs of hospitality from their native countries, they are expressing a sense of nostalgia for that community, for the “old country.” These customs also tend to become simplified over time as cultures mix; in more cosmopolitan societies, a lot of the nuance and specificity of certain customs tends to fade away. We can now see them in more generalized customs, such as asking someone whether they would like a glass of water when they visit your home, which are more simple, symbolistic nods to that culture of hospitality.