Chinese people have made it to all corners of the earth. Although I am ethnically Chinese, I have never lived in China – my mother tongue is English and I speak French better than Mandarin or Cantonese. It is enlightening to meet Chinese counterparts worldwide as it seems to me that we have developed subsets of attitudes and thinking that are far from the original culture of the ‘homeland’. Our ability to converse in ‘Chinese’ is extremely varied – depending on personal and educational backgrounds. At St Anny’s in The Hague (a Chinese bakery and dim sum café – not a Catholic church despite what the name may suggest), I order my pineapple buns and Char Siew Bao in three languages – Mandarin, English and Dutch. Often, the most efficient way to communicate is in Dutch. It does feel very strange to whip out my patchy Dutch when facing people who look like me, but if you don’t speak the same dialect, Dutch is de rigueur.
A couple of days ago, I had the opportunity to meet a diverse group of Chinese people at the Chinese Embassy in The Hague, marking China’s National Day. It struck me that although the varying demographics consisted of Beijing diplomats on post, mainland Chinese foreign entrepreneurs, Sino-Dutchies, Hong Kongers, etc., Chinese universally place great importance on eating. While most of us relished the generous buffet, an acquaintance of mine (Dutch-Chinese) surprised me greatly by saying that she was ‘too Chinese to stand and eat’. This statement was rather curious. If anything, I would have thought it more European to prefer the niceties of decorous dining – Chinese are quite content to gnash on chicken feet or bowls of hot noodle soup while engaging in roadside calisthenics (squatting that is, a skill I have yet to master). Thus, eating while standing, a must for most receptions these days, is hardly a challenge, I would have thought.
I wonder if eating while standing is truly an unnatural state, having gained traction as a result of American cocktail parties, and the fitness gurus are right in their disdain. All that being said, it seems to me that and eating while standing/walking/biking is a quintessential Dutch habit. Everywhere in NL, you’ll see the Dutch rolling along with cellphone in one hand, munching merrily on a broodje kroket in the other.