One good turn deserves another

17 Sep

I learned another traditional Chinese phrase the other day.  It’s 礼尚往来(Li Shang Wang Lai)translated it is normally “one good turn deserves another” or “courtesy calls for reciprocity.”

In theory then, this should be a similar concept to the English.  However…

Let me share how I came to know the term.

We are going to celebrate the upcoming Mid-Autumn Festival in Li’s hometown.  Li’s mom helped us arrange a taxi ride from the train station to their house.  It so happens that the gentleman who is coordinating the driver and car is her neighbor.  Unbeknownst to both of us, this gentleman and his family attended our wedding and gave a gift.   There were over 250 people at our reception – I knew just over 10.  Very possible.

So how are these two events connected?

Nothing – but it so happens that his son/daughter by chance is getting married in Li’s hometown at the same place we had our reception, while we are there.

Li’s family is now convinced that if we don’t go to the wedding he will feel slighted and there will be problems between neighbors later. Because he has coordinated our taxi ride, he now knows we will be in town.

So – “courtesy calls for reciprocity.”

I have problems with this from several angles.

1) We were not invited to the wedding.

2) Neither of us knows this gentleman or his offspring.

3) We were planning on spending time with other members of Li’s family during our short visit which now may have to be skipped.

To my western mind, ignoring your own family to go to the wedding of a neighbor’s kid you’ve never met seems to be showing the wrong kind of courtesy.  But, I am in China.  I tried to explain this point of view to my husband.  At the end of the discussion we agreed to disagree.  Our definitions are different, though the words are the same.

I think (though am not certain) I will be going to a wedding over this Mid-Autumn Festival.  I wonder what my next good turn will be?

Has anything like this happened to you?

18 Responses to “One good turn deserves another”

  1. Every Day Adventures in Asia September 17, 2013 at 10:56 am #

    Sounds awkward but I’ve been in situations like that where ‘obligation’ comes into play in a way we’d never have to bother in North America. Enjoy it for what it is or find a darn good excuse to escape! 🙂

    • gkm2011 September 17, 2013 at 9:41 pm #

      The escape will not be of my planning, but I will let you know what happens.

  2. omreddy September 17, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

    Reblogged this on omreddy.

  3. ladyofthecakes September 17, 2013 at 3:57 pm #

    Awrgh, this is EXACTLY the kind of stuff I cannot be bothered with. Pointless ‘courtesy’. I don’t go to the weddings of the people I actually like, because I hate weddings (actually, all big parties, and weddings fall into that category).
    No way would I be going to this NO WAY. Be there a fallout, I would not give a toss.
    Hurraaah for ‘Western’ individualism!

    • gkm2011 September 17, 2013 at 9:50 pm #

      Individualism is one thing, politeness another. I figure I am saving up my own cards until it is something that really matters to me. Until that point, I go with the flow, for the most part!

      • ladyofthecakes September 17, 2013 at 10:35 pm #

        Yes, then you’re going to make HIM and his whole sorry tribe attend the christening of your firstborn, and they’ll better be bearing a full deck of red envelopes mwhaahaha mwuahhh!

  4. Sherri September 17, 2013 at 5:37 pm #

    That is a tough one. It’s good that you are both able to agree to disagree. It is so interesting to read about other cultures and the social expectations. I hope it all works out for you and that you will still manage to spend time with family 🙂

    • gkm2011 September 17, 2013 at 9:51 pm #

      Yes, we just have to keep talking until both sides at least understand if not accept the other’s point of view. Lots of conversations…

      • Sherri September 17, 2013 at 10:15 pm #

        I can well imagine…

  5. pollyheath September 18, 2013 at 12:33 am #

    Very weird, but should be an interesting experience if you end up going?

    • gkm2011 September 18, 2013 at 7:30 am #

      Yes, though I know what to expect at this point. I have gone to a lot of weddings in China now. Never gone to one though where neither of us know or are at least related to the bride or groom.

  6. erica @ expatria, baby September 18, 2013 at 10:48 am #

    This kind of thing makes my blood BOIL (related: i must say that I admire your levelheadedness and ability to agree to disagree. I have been known to lose my marbles re tiny incidents like this.)
    One thing that totally sticks out in my mind was for Stella’s 3rd birthday when someone with whom I have only a very shallow acquaintance gave her a huge (in value and actual size!) birthday present that I thought was totally inappropriate based on our relationship. Plus I feel like it indebted us, or at least had the intention of doing so. ARG!! HULKSMASH. (Okay, this might be pregnancy rage getting the better of me, but I’m still so annoyed thinking about this.)

    • gkm2011 September 18, 2013 at 6:24 pm #

      I am trying to be levelheaded, but sometimes other things get the better of me. Feeling indebted to someone you don’t know switches something inside of me that takes a long time to calm down. Hope you’re doing well!

  7. sarahinguangzhou September 18, 2013 at 9:38 pm #

    hmm, this is just the kind of good manners stuff that I hate. It’s one of the things I found most annoying about China (or Asia generally) and I was constantly inadvertently (or pretend inadvertently) offending someone.

    • gkm2011 September 19, 2013 at 8:22 am #

      In Shanghai now I am more attuned to it – it’s just part of the “Cost of doing business” in a sense. However it is difficult for me to understand as well. That said, my husband I’m sure has moments when he is in the states where he thinks – “We are doing this, why?” Turn about is fair play. 🙂

  8. stupiduglyforeigner September 22, 2013 at 4:16 pm #

    Well, how long is this wedding likely to be? If you can slip in, leave a gift, hooray ceremony and slip back out it might be fine, but if you’re suddenly sucked into a huge reception it might be a loooong stretch of courtesy expected of you.

    • gkm2011 September 22, 2013 at 9:55 pm #

      I actually missed it (see my comment to Expat Lingo). My husband’s parents did go and it seems like it was several hours. My longest ever Chinese wedding was only 3 hours. There is never dancing which is my favorite part so actually they are pretty short.


  1. Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! | 中国 Jumble - September 19, 2013

    […] so the official mid-Autumn festival day.  Shortly we will be heading out to Li’s hometown (wedding still […]

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