During Chinese New Year, the alcohol flows as freely as the conversation — and sometimes a little too much so. On the second day of the new year, a lunch packed with mostly male relatives and well-lubricated with baijiu — the vodka-like hard liquor of choice — actually landed two of the men in the hospital for alcohol poisoning.
It works like this. The elder male relatives at the table insist their younger male relatives drink in a gesture of respect. Of course, nobody in Chinese history ever said filial piety involved imbibing the alcohol for your elders — but such reasoning is pointless at the table, where peer pressure and the expectation that “real men” can handle their alcohol rules.
Yet my husband John survived the entire holiday without a single drunken incident and ultimately only enjoying a few sips of red wine by choice. And when I asked him why, he cited me, his foreign wife, as the reason.
“I have a yangxifu,” he said. “You’re a good excuse not to drink.” In other words, because I’m a foreigner here, John’s relatives assume he needs to care for me more than if I was just Chinese (despite my fluent Chinese and years of living in this country). So if he was stupid drunk, he couldn’t fulfill his so-called “responsibility” to me.
We both laughed at this comical idea — that my being John’s wife actually shielded him from the pressure to drink in China.
Still, given John’s low alcohol tolerance, drinking among relatives will always be a dangerous pursuit. So as bizarre as it is, if my presence might save him from a drunken stupor — or worse, a trip to the hospital — I’ll take it. 😉