Asian Girl Problem #91: What’s Too Polite

There’s politeness, and then there’s Asian (I’m thinking Chinese, Japanese and Korean, at least) politeness.

Polite in America is when you apologize for cutting your friend’s visit short because you need to make dinner and finish laundry before the week begins. Ke qi in China is when you demand that your friend stay for dinner and apologize that you didn’t have enough time to prepare anything fancy, just a handful of dishes and a frozen dessert you saved for emergencies like this. But if your friend’s a legit Asian, she’ll also be ke qi and insist on leaving because she needs to go cook dinner for her family. If she’s single she’ll make some other excuse, like needing to do her own laundry. But a true ke qi host will refuse to let her leave without at least a light meal, so you’ll compromise and let her bounce before dessert. Then you will might also be slightly annoyed that she did not praise your cooking as much as she could’ve when you gave her the last few free hours of your weekend. BUT you’ll also have earned the feeling of superiority and sleep soundly, knowing you were the most ke qi that day.

With a lot of my Asian-American friends, we’ve hit that sweet spot. We’re pretty considerate and flexible, but call each other (or ourselves) out when we find ourselves going overboard. When I hang out with friends who have grown up in Asia or go back to visit my cousins, I definitely feel like the least ke qi and sometimes just stop trying. People will literally hurt each other to get dibs on paying a restaurant bill, at which point, I just let them. Conversely, when I hang with less polite people, I try to tone down the consideration because at best, no one notices and I end up getting the short end of the stick. At worst, people think it’s weird and lose respect for me.

Factor that into new dating relationships, and it gets confusing. My default is to toss away all semblance of ke qi and be sassy and carefree, while of course still being a decently nice person (by American standards). Sometimes I’ll go out of my way to do some nice things for someone I like, and I’ll later wonder if I fucked it up. Spent too much time and energy, too early on. It’s hard not to keep score at the beginning–who initiated what, who took longer to text, who travelled longer to see the other person. I also have to remind myself that ke qi is too often translated to “trying too hard” in the American dating scene. I can try my hardest to ignore the numbers (which is what leads me to spend six hours helping a relative stranger buy his bed, or lending an freshly-cut ex $300 to bail out his car) but there is definitely a point where you stop and start waiting for the time/energy/resources to be returned in some form.

But I know I’m okay with having the “losing score” as long as I genuinely want to do those things.

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One thought on “Asian Girl Problem #91: What’s Too Polite

  1. I would’ve never connected politeness with superiority, but it definitely makes sense in this context. “Ke qi” contests sound intense.

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