Thursday 22 January 2009

Kung Hei Fat Choi!

Well, that' s a bit early actually. Lunar New Year approaches, bringing with it the cultural minefield that is lai see. These innocuous-looking red packets are destined to be my downfall in the world of Chinese etiquette. However, I have extensively consulted both gweilo and Chinese colleagues, and come to a few conclusions. I'll give you the vague outline; if you want to read an amusing take on the whole situation, I suggest you mosey on over to Batgung, an awesome site kept up to date by two expats, Mr Tall and Mr Balding.

1. Married people are expected to give to unmarried people. Fair? I'll let you be the judge.
2. You are expected to give to any "subordinates" at work - I don't have any, so that bit's easy for me.
3. You have 15 days after CNY (which is Monday 26th Jan this year) to present the red packets.
4. Here’s the hard part – the packets have to be stuffed with money. How much to give? How to distinguish the red packets you’ve filled with $50 notes from the ones you’ve filled with $10 notes? New notes (the done thing) or used notes (the environmentally-friendly thing)? As I said, minefield.
5. Another issue is the recipient list – lots of people at the office, which really requires you to know whether all your colleagues are married. Not only colleagues, but other staff at the office. So that’s the super-friendly bin dude, the desk-cleaning lady, the aggressively smily loo-cleaning lady, and the surly vacuuming lady. And not only them, but also colleagues’ children, who will pay a lovely visit at some point. I’m ok with this bit, because people quite often bring their kids into the office, and everyone knows them already. Also lots of non-office service people – the (3) doormen at our building, our cleaner, the building cleaner, lift repair men, post man….

It’s tricky. Everyone’s getting reeeeally friendly this time of year, the doormen leap up to snatch the door open for you, and the bin dude has learnt to say “You’re welcome” in English. Actually, he almost certainly knew that before, just didn’t try it out on me.

It’s also a pretty austere time. While I’m not pretending that HK is as gloomy as the UK sounds, people are still tightening belts, or whatever the phrase is. So, it could turn out to be an expensive fortnight. Oh, and Ross and I both have to give packets to all the service people individually, we can’t give as a couple. Having said that, the service here makes life pretty luxurious so I am perfectly happy to hand over a few packets in return for the (almost universally) courteous and excellent service we get all over the place.

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