In the west, when we send an invitation inviting people for lunch, or a dinner or what-ever, we give a time to arrive – so do the Chinese. But they don’t seem to really mean the time given.
For example, a western invitation would read something like this:
Loobie Lu and John Doe would love you to join them for lunch on
Saturday 31st of December at 12 noon……
And to me that means that 12 noon is the EARLIEST time they would expect anyone to arrive.
China is SO different, and when I first started living here I could not get my head round it. An invitation such as the one above would mean some of the invited Chinese guests arriving either on the dot, or up to half an hour EARLY!
Quelle horreur! (as the French would say!)
In the west, there is a concept of being ‘Fashionably late’ by which guests mean to show that they are busy, popular people with a lot to do, thus giving respect to their hosts for turning up.
In China, it is the reverse – it is fashionable to arrive early; it shows respect to arrive early for any event. My DH drives me crazy when we are invited to a Chinese event by insisting we should arrive early – why? WHY? They gave a time on the invitation, let’s stick to it is my view.
Both these ways have problems for whoever is hosting an event – but I find the Chinese way the most problematic.
Often, I have got everything for a meal prepared, table set, etc. etc. but have cut the time a little finer than intended; just leapt into the shower and about to dress in smarter clothes then slap on some make-up, when – 30 minutes early – some of our Chinese guests arrive…. aargh!
On the other hand, with Western guests, everything is ready, the apartment, the food, the wines and other drinks, I am fully glammed up etc. and nobody comes, time passes and still nobody arrives. I start panicking, did I put the wrong time/date on the invitation? What will I do with all the food I have prepared if no-one arrives? And so on and so forth. Then, 45 minutes late, the first couples burst through the doors and everything gets going.
After several years of always being on the back foot so to speak, my solution is to have a stiff drink and to hell with the timing!