Uncle Wu Starves at Dinner

Poor Uncle Wu! A simple invitation gets muddled in translation, and then he wonders whether anybody in Canada gets enough to eat! This funny story of a mixed-up invitation shows two families, each desperately trying to be polite to the other, without much success.

Some of my funny stories are from when we first arrived in China in the early 1990s. Two of the first friends we met outside of the university were Uncle Wu and his wife.

Uncle and Auntie were dignified, well-educated people in their 60s. They were very friendly and spoke a bit of English, which was very helpful since my wife and I had not yet been to language school. Our Chinese vocabulary at that time consisted of a couple dozen phrases.

Having visited Uncle Wu's family at their home, we decided to invite them over for dessert one evening to express our appreciation for the way they had welcomed us to China.

Since it was just dessert, we invited them to arrive around 7:00pm. Unfortunately, they understood the invitation to be for a full dinner, figuring that Canadians simply ate later than a typical Chinese family.

Uncle Wu, Auntie, and their adult daughter arrived at 7:00 with roaring appetites, without having had any supper at all. I think they might have intentionally avoided eating to be sure they had room for the scrumptious, huge Canadian dinner that awaited them.

(Surely those large foreigners must eat a lot of food, eh?)

As we obliviously welcomed them to our home, the disappointed trio looked wonderingly at a single plate of cookies and a small pan of brownies.

(This is all they eat?)

They asked whether Canadians always eat like this.

(How do you get so fat?)

Snarf!! The goodies were gone in about 2 minutes and they were politely sitting there, stomachs rumbling, hoping against hope that Canadian tradition had dessert before the main course. "Tell us about your family dinners in Canada."

(Please tell us there's more to it than this...)

About then, despite the language barrier, we got the hints and realized what had happened. Oops! My wife quickly got some crackers and a sandwich or two ready, which were pounced upon so quickly that I don't remember my wife and I eating anything at all.

Apparently, the concept of a light dessert visit was outside of their experience. I apologized for the misunderstanding and we all had a little laugh about cultural miscommunication, but after another 15 minutes or so of polite chatting, they "left".

Actually, they rushed off like a wolf pack eager to leave the barren lands and hunt down a flock of sheep. Large, succulent sheep. Many of them.

A postscript to the story is that we invited them back a few weeks later, determined to make amends and emphasizing that this time we would feed them a real Canadian dinner.

We prepared about three times as much as the five of us could hope to eat. This time, we all had enough to eat, particularly since the meal was supplemented by a whole roast chicken that Uncle Wu unexpectedly brought along, just in case.