"Grandpa eats, Grandma eats, Papa eats, Mama eats, Eldest Uncle eats, Eldest Auntie eats, Second Uncle eats, Third Uncle eats, Elder Cousin eats, Elder Cousin-in-Law eats..."
Sometimes, my before-food greeting list can very long, especially during extended family food gatherings.
This is my mother's first compulsory Chinese family rule for me that I must greet all my seniors, before I am allowed to touch my food, and to habitually arrange the chairs back to where they are after the meal gatherings are over.
If my grandparents are around, I will need to wait for them to make the first chopsticks-food-move, before I can start my food galore.
As a kid then, I don't know how to appreciate this Chinese greeting culture, and I observe that not all Chinese families practice this cultural habit.
I ask my mother why does she make us go through this greeting momentum, she replies that this culture helps us get familiar with our family tree hierarchy, and teaches us respect for our elders. She also says this habit will be useful when I'm a grown-up working adult.
As an adult, I continue this greeting food culture to all seniors - friends' and clients' parents, grandparents, and even to very senior clients.
During this year's Chinese New Year, I have a restaurant lunch appointment with a very senior couple, who are in their 70s. After all the dishes are presented at the table by the waitress, I instinctively greet my clients to eat, and wait for them to get their food first before I proceed eating.
My clients' say that they are appreciative of my respectful food greetings, and they observe that I have waited for them to eat before I take my food. They say it's rare for juniors to greet their seniors these days, and that this food etiquette is a vanishing culture. They explain to me that this culture teaches the value of "others-before-self" too.
Now that I'm a mother myself, I extend the before-food rule to my daughter, Miya. She has to greet every senior before she eats, and after food, bring her plates to the kitchen herself, and arrange the chairs back neatly.
When Miya joins me at the foodcourts or restaurants for meals, she will place the chairs back to the tables neatly, and personally return the food trays to the cleaning aunties and uncles after she is done with her meals. Occasionally, the cleaning staff will help clean and clear the table for us, and Miya and I will instinctively say, "Thank you Auntie / Uncle!"
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