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Feb 6, 2010 04:39 AM

Chinese New Year's Dinner Party Etiquette

This is not truly 'Houndish so I hope the Thread Gods will please understand. I didn't know where else to ask and am betting many of you will be able to help me.

I have been honored with an invitation to a small dinner gathering on the 14th, Chinese New Year?s. I did a bit of research and am wondering if the following would be proper w/o being presumptous: a small bouquet of red flowers for the hostess and a red envelope with a piece of chocolate for her and all attending.

Would this show respect for their culture and thank them or would I be being rude?

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  1. I'm Chinese. The red flowers are not a bad idea if you have them in a vase so that the hostess does not have to go hunt for a vase before dinner, but I wouldn't do the red envelope unless you are at least a generation higher than the hostess. Red envelopes are traditionally given from seniors to junior, e.g. grandparents or parents to a child, or parents' friend to a child. Maybe you could just bring a box of chocolates?

    9 Replies
    1. re: browniebaker

      The hostess and her husband and I are of the same generation, just a year or so a part.

      A box of chocolates is doable. Do I give them to the hostess or do I use them as my part of the celebration and offer to evereyone?

      I will contact a florist to see if I can get mums - no white! - as I know mums are a favorite of the Chinese. Will make sure to include vase.

      It is very important to me to do this correctly as this woman understands how excited I get and how much I enjoy immersing myself in different cultures. I want to be a part but do not want to be The Ugly American.

      I'm unemployed and so don't have much money, but is there something else I should maybe do that would be more appreopreiate?

      I really really appreciate your help!

      1. re: green56

        Instead of expensive chocolates, if you can obtain oranges or tangerines with the stem and leaves attached. It's a traditional gift.

        1. re: fourunder

          Oh, dear. That's a tuffy in MN, no matter the time of year let alone winter. If I could afford it, would a small ornamental orange tree be fitting? Or a box of Clemintines?

          1. re: green56

            It's the thought of the gift from where I come I would say yes, it's thoughtful and appropriate. If you type in a search on Google, Chinese New Year and oranges, you will see more information and traditions.

            Around my parts, any Asian market usually carries them for the Chinese New Year. If there is an Asian community or Chinatown in your area, street vendors will also sell them.


            1. re: fourunder

              Hhhuuummmm... we have a very large Hmong population in Saint Paul. And I did Google Chinese stores and one particular Oriental store came up.

              I will check with them to see about the oranges.

              Then I would do bright mums for the hostess and oranges to hand out to all attending.

              I am so excited about this. I have no hope of ever going to China and am so thankful these kind people are opening their home, hearts and culture to me.

              1. re: green56

                I like your ideas for the bright mums and the oranges. May I suggest that you give the oranges just to your hostess and not to the other guests? If the other guests have not brought gifts to share with everyone, they might feel awkward if you pass around gifts.

                1. re: browniebaker

                  Oh, my. I never thoight of that. Glad you said something. That would be verey rude.

                  1. re: browniebaker

                    You're a gem and a jewel and I'm glad I heeded your xcellent, and very correct, suggestion. It all went down perfectly.

                    Xie xie.

          2. re: green56

            Give the gift to the host. Let her decide on what to do with it.

        2. Any thing red is good, especially a red or pink bouquet.
          I don't know if your Chinese hosts are very traditional people. If they are, do not freak out if they do not clean up much after dinner. Don't laugh. One is not supposed to clean up on New Year's Day.
          I agree with browniebaker re red envelope. It is traditionally given to an unmarried youngster.
          Traditionally one eats hairy seaweed, oyster, pig tongue. They all rhyme with auspicious happenings. Have fun.

          5 Replies
          1. re: Parigi

            We are having home-made dumplings. Pot stickers?

            I will not be offended or put off at all if there is no clean up immediately. I come from a large extended family and we would sit arounf the table for hours chatting and catching up duringg the holidays after the meal.

            I have since found out since my original post it's during the afternoon (2:00 PM) on New YearLs Eve. Do I change my behavior in any way? Do I offer to help [with anything] or not?

            Would little confetti poppers be appropriate?

            I really appreciate all your help, immensely. I will be the only non-Chinese there. I am so honored and thrilled with the invite!

            1. re: green56

              No confetti poppers. Sweeping is extremely bad luck during the New Year Celebration. Who wants to live with confetti lying around the house for the entire day?

              1. re: green56

                On the other hand, being aware of the tradition of not cleaning up immediately, don't feel funny if your hostess does clean up immediately. My family was never very traditional or superstitious, and we broke all the rules! I would offer to help if it seemed appropriate (e.g., no housekeeper doing the job, an informal setting, etc.), but understand that offers usually are rejected the first time around. You have to repeat an offer to be sincere, yet you don't want to be pushy if the hostess really wants you to sit down and not help, so you walk a fine line, LOL. Chinese manners can be hard to navigate. Having grown up in the U.S., I never know whether my Chinese-American host is following American manners or Chinese manners -- "Does she really mean no, and should I keep pressing my offer?" <<Aaarrrgh!>>

                1. re: browniebaker

                  I will just be honest with her - she has always appreciated that - and let her know I do not want to offend, but I want to be a good guest and help if that is appropriate. She will understand from whence I come. I really appreciate your input; it's helpful.

            2. No need to give red envelop to those of the same generation. Chocolate is always welcome. Red daisies, red wine would be good also. Wear bright colors.

              5 Replies
              1. re: PeterL

                Yes! I remember about the bright colors! Thank you for the reminder. I have a Madras jacket that is every hue and color of the rainbow and is quite bright and cheerful. It will work perfectly!

                1. re: green56

                  hmmmm - madras, this time of year?

                2. re: PeterL

                  I never said a word as I didn't want to embarass and/or offend my host and hostess and the other guests - or myself! - but I was the only one in bright colors! But I gotta tell'ya I was laughing at myself big time! While I was clad in blue jeans, as everyone else was, everyone else was dressed to the hilt in layers of tees and sweatshirts - all dark! LOL! The young lady was the exception.

                  However, I would have been miserable layered up like that as I get so hot so easily. I keep my heat on 67... so my light weight jacket was perfect for the - to me - overly warm temp in the house.

                  But, I was laughing at myself the whole time. And in retrospect I would have dressed just as I did. It was the right thing to do.

                  1. re: green56

                    Don't feel bad. When we watched the Chinese New Year celebrations on the Chinese TV stations, the audience was about 1/2 dressed drab; and 1/2 dressed red. In China, no less.

                    For the record, I wore a red silk shirt yesterday.

                    1. re: shaogo

                      My friends got up at 6:00 AM and watched. :) Very cool , that.

                3. I'm pretty sure my hostess is Mandarin.

                  Could you guys please phonetically spell for me:

                  Please, Thank You, Happy New Year, and I'm pleased (or hornored) to meet you?

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: green56

                    Just Googled "audio Chinese phrases" and got websites that do a better job than I could and have audio, such as

                    1. re: green56

                      I'm pretty sure your hostess is not Mandarin, but she might _speak_ Mandarin. ;)

                      You already know "gong hee fat choy", right? That's _not_ Mandarin, but if you go around telling people that at the party, you'll get a lot of smiles/laughs, and they'll teach you the "correct" pronunciation as you go along.

                      Which brings me to my more general advice: Save some of your questions for the day of the event, and ask them directly to your fellow party-goers. They'll be happy to share with you, it will add to the festive conversation, and I think they'll be less freaked out than if you walk in the door acting like you've been celebrating Chinese New Year every year since you were born. (Yes, I think if you go around handing everyone an orange and saying "honored to meet you" in Mandarin, they will be freaked out.)

                      1. re: DeppityDawg

                        You make a good point even if you do say it in a way that is hurtful.

                        I have learned to speak some phrases in Arabic that tickle the smoke shop folks no end, and I try and speak only Spanish when eating at my neighborhood Mexican restaurant. In both situations I have been thanked warmly and profusely for my attempts. It makes them feel good I try. And I get a kick out of them being so tickled at such a small gesture.

                        There is no way these people will think I have been celebrating New Year's all my life. And there is no way I'm walking in totally green w/o giving some prior thought to THEIR culture. These are good people that are inviting me into their home and wanting to share their food and culture with me. I am going to do my homework (somewhat) beforehand to honor them. They will appreciate it and my actions will speak my gratitude and thanks.

                        1. re: green56

                          I think you'll be a lovely guest, your heartfelt efforts much appreciated. Enjoy the dinner party. I'd love to hear all about it! Happy new year!

                          1. re: browniebaker


                            I will report back and will keep count of how many times I bean someone with part of a dumpling flying off my chopsticks! :) Looking forward to learning that. That will be fun.

                            I know about shoeless so will make sure I have on clean socks w/o holes.

                            I want to thank all of you for sharing this with me. I so appreciate all of your input and your help in making me a better guest. I'm so glad I posted here - your savy and cheering me on makes me feel I'm going with a group of friends. Thank you all.

                        2. re: DeppityDawg

                          Because this is not about me, but about them. It behooves me to do what I can to show my understanding and appreciativeness for our likes/differences. I am a better and more enriched, educated person for my effort(s) that I have thoroughly loved going to. I get to go to China w/o ever leaving Saint Paul and am thankful for the opportunity.

                          1. re: DeppityDawg

                            I got the most fascinating education regarding the standard dialect used. And no, no one would have freaked out if I had spoken Mandarin as that is the 'universal' dialect of China. All the young people said they begin learning Mandarin AND English in primary grades - the young man from Hong Kong at AGE THREE - AT THE SAME TIME! I could not wrap my mind around anyone learning a different dialect, plus a foreign language at the same time.

                            I was slack-jawed. How amazing to me. To the young man from HK, just natural and the way it is.

                            I shake my head. The guy at the smoke shop speaks 8 LANGUAGES! And here I am... Stuttering my way through baby phrases in a couple languages. I feel so bad and not a good world person. This is why I do go out of my way to try and learn something in othersL language.

                        3. Happy Year of the Tiger! And it happens to fall on Valentine's Day too.