She came bearing cake!
Actually, she came out of the kitchen with a beautifully decorated chocolate cake bought from the bakery downstairs. I made some dull-witted comment about it being someone’s birthday. She, lacking a sense of humour at the best of times, frowned and said “No.” The cake was duly placed on the dining table.
The lesson continued for another five minutes before the kids scrambled to the table for an after-class snack.
“Line up kids” she said with the passion of a bored immigration official.
Would they offer me a piece? And if they did, should I accept it? It was already 9pm and I’d yet to have dinner. My abs of steel hadn’t exactly been on display recently. Would a slice of cake affect my ability to fit into that new pair of jeans?
One by one, the students collected their consignments. I engaged in a faux-packing of my belongings. Buying time, I fluffed around with textbooks, a small Sony wireless speaker, a thermos containing coffee, a manic looking dog hand-puppet, whiteboard markers…
The parents were now being offered slices of cake.
I zipped up my bag with the following realisation: the buggers aren’t going to offer me a piece! Or would they? I had second thoughts. I’d been overly quick to judge people (erroneously) in times past.
Shoes were slipped on and goodbyes were said. No offer of cake, I opened and shut, the door. And there I stood, waiting an interminable age for an elevator to arrive. Cakeless. Had I just been cake-snobbed? Nineteen years in this country and I could count the number of cake-snobbing incidents on one hand.
It wasn’t about the cake. It was about the gesture. This act of snubbery won’t make-or-bake our relationship but it has made me question their commitment to my lessons.
The Cake Test
Lifeinlifts.com decided to conduct a little “light” research. Was it rude to offer cake to everyone in the apartment other than the teacher? What was the current societal standing of teachers in China? How often did this sort of cake-snobbery happen? Did the snobbery occur only with cake, or with other food/drink items too?
Not wanting to jump on to the increasingly-popular China-bashing bandwagon, we decided to conduct a little survey over four days. The aim – to ascertain whether cake snobbery is a normal behaviour in China. I’d never really paid attention before.
Japanese-style cheesecake was offered in the first class (which I politely declined). Häagen-Dazs ice-cream cake was offered in the second. Goodness. One could get fat.
Lemon water was refreshing in one morning class while coffee and fruit were provided in the 1:30pm lesson. Toblerone chocolate was dished out to all and sundry in the 5pm lesson. Good stuff!
A cantaloupe? Wow, I didn’t expect to be given one of these melons. Not much from the other classes today, but then I am there to teach – not there to scoff cake. Two of the venues were in classroom settings and perhaps not the most appropriate places to break bread (or cake).
Nothing offered by the first two classes – but then a glass of water is a rarefied object in those parts. I did, however, score a packet of freshly ground drip coffee from the third lesson – score!
So, is it okay (in China) to cake snob your child’s teacher while feeding everyone else in the room?
No, it is not. And the number of people I spoke to about this incident agree that it was, deliberate or not, the height of rudeness. One major finding in this little piece of cake research is that I’ve realised just how generous people are here. Tea, earphones, melons, cookies, snacks, mooncakes, wine (before it became seen as a form of corruption), sandwiches are just some of the things that get offered to me on a regular basis.
Chinese hosts might dare I say it, be as (if not more) generous as their Western counterparts. One must try and find good from the bad and posit that without this act of thoughtlessness, I may well have continued taking the other clients for granted.
Here ends blog post number 49. Thanks so much for the support this year. Great to see readers from all over the world join us in 2019. It has been the icing on the…