Jun 7, 2012

“Have you eaten?”

It just means “hello!”

Have you eaten?

A lot of times when we run into people we know, one of the first things they ask is, “Have you eaten?” When we first moved here, we worried that this was leading to an invitation; not that we wouldn’t like to spend more time with our friends, but dinnertime, especially in the beginning, is often a time for us to decompress and process what living in China means.

But, of course, it was never a dinner/lunch invitation. It’s just a polite thing you ask for small talk - much like “How are you?” in America. We’ve read that part of that comes from the Great Leap Forward, when there wasn’t enough food and people were starving. In fact, a lot about current day China focuses on having enough food. There’s a New Year tradition of having a giant fish that you don’t finish until the next day, because that shows that you have so much food that it spills over into the New Year. And of course, at formal banquets, the host purposely orders more food than is necessary. It’s a matter of pride and reassurance, I think, that there is enough food.

So, “Have you eaten?” becomes small talk. The answer is usually either “Yes, we had a delicious meal,” or, “No, but we’re going to eat something great in just a little bit.” What we’re all saying is really, “Isn’t it great that we’re not starving!”