I stopped by the bike repair corner for lunch yesterday. I brought my own lunch, and figured I’d better bring something to share, since that’s usually how things work. Mandarin oranges — the kind we eat during Christmas in Vancouver — are really cheap right now, so I brought a bag.
Last time I tried to bring food to share with these guys I didn’t understand enough how to offer food to people in China, especially older people. Last time, no one touched the bowl of cherry tomatoes I’d brought, even though we played Chinese chess with a crowd for at least two hours. I talked it over with my teachers afterward, and it seems like I simply wasn’t forceful enough. You’re supposed to be really insistent and disregard their refusals to the point that they can take some without appearing greedy, or something like that. It’s supposed to look like they’re taking the food because they “have to,” at least that’s how the little daily social ritual goes. It’s hard for foreigners because we end up not knowing which refusals are genuine, and which ones are just for politeness sake.
All that to say, yesterday, with my bag of Mandarin oranges, I was determined to make them eat. Both Mr. Zhang and Mr. Lu were surprisingly resistant, but I didn’t care. And I wouldn’t let them eat just one, either. I think Mr. Zhang caved in first just to give me face, since I obviously wasn’t going to back down. I tossed him the second one so he had to take it. Once Mr. Zhang was stuck with one, he started telling Mr. Lu he ought to take one, which he did, but only ate half.
It was weird that they didn’t eat more; this time I definitely wasn’t too weak when offering. So as usual, I asked about it the next day in class. Turns out it has nothing to do with cultural differences blah blah blah. According to my teacher (and Mr. Lu, Mr. Zhang, and Mr. Guo, who I saw again this afternoon), there’s a melanine-sized national Mandarin orange scandal going on right now. “Everyone knows, except the foreigners,” says my teacher. No one could tell me the details, at least not in a way that I could understand, but apparently down south where they grow the oranges some sort of really tiny insect got into all the oranges and now people are afraid to eat them.
If I can’t see it, or can’t understand it because it’s in another language, it can’t hurt me, right?