Why I Don’t Like Going to Wedding Banquets in China

In China, there’s nothing that strikes fear into my heart quite like the phrase, “Let’s attend a wedding.”

I should know. A little over a week ago, I was worried when my husband’s old classmate was about to have a wedding banquet – and kept insisting that I simply had to come.

My palms started to sweat and visions of wedding banquets from hell in China flashed through my mind.

(Sadly, almost every wedding banquet I’ve experienced was pretty hellish in one way or another…)

The classmate tried really, really hard to persuade me to come. He offered to take care of everything that worried me about weddings, promising things would be different this time.

As much as I knew he was a nice guy, and as much as my husband trusted him so much he called him a “brother”, I wasn’t exactly buying it.

It’s not that I didn’t believe in his hospitality. It’s just that I know better about weddings in China. I know the drill. I’ve been there and done that. And I never, ever, want to go again if I can help it.

Here are my 3 reasons why I really dislike going to weddings and wedding banquets in China:

#1: I’m a vegetarian, which means I won’t have anything to eat

Wedding banquets in China are renowned for being extravagant feasts, with more dishes than everyone could humanly consume.

In theory, nobody should leave the table hungry.

But I, on the other hand, have left most wedding banquets in various states of hunger. At best, slightly hungry and requiring an additional snack; or at worst, so famished I ended up leaving the banquet hall before the affair was over.

That’s because wedding banquets almost exclusively serve up the finest meat and seafood dishes, while I’m a vegetarian (vegan actually) pining for something that’s not on the menu.

In China, people assume everyone eats meat, seafood and even eggs – and can’t imagine that there are people like me with special dietary needs. It’s such a problem that even dishes that technically ought to be vegetarian – like Chinese kale or tofu – end up being prepared with non-vegetarian ingredients like lard, ground pork or oyster sauce.

It’s bad enough to come for dinner and find there’s nothing for you to eat. But it’s pure torture to watch everyone else at the table blissfully devour their dinner while your stomach grumbles in vain.

Unfortunately, I’ve had this experience a few too many times at weddings in China. It’s enough for me to mentally link the occasion with “starvation” in my mind – and want nothing to do with wedding banquets in China.

Now, my husband’s friend did promise he would have commissioned the kitchen to prepare all the vegetarian dishes my heart desired. That was incredibly generous of him to offer. Still, that wasn’t enough to tempt me, because it’s not just the food that makes weddings in China so aversive to me…

(Photo by MiKi via Flickr.com)
(Photo by MiKi via Flickr.com)

#2: People usually smoke at wedding banquets in China, and I hate secondhand smoke

My husband and I are both fervent nonsmokers. We detest secondhand smoke and don’t want it crapping up the dining table – including when we eat out.

Well, it’s common practice at weddings in China to pass out cigarettes, guaranteeing most of the people there will light up. (And guaranteeing that if I were there, I would be coughing and hacking in agony.)

True to form, they distributed the Zhonghua brand smokes at my husband’s classmate’s wedding. My husband reported that the banquet hall was mired in a noxious cloud of smoke. Yuck!

Jocelyn-John-letdown#3: Weddings in China can be huge, overwhelming events — and I prefer small, quiet affairs

I’m an introverted, quiet kind of gal. I prefer long hikes in the mountains, lazy afternoons writing articles on my own, or reading a fantastic book all morning. I’m not a big party person, but when I do go I usually end up in the most low-key place with a handful of people to talk with – generally the kitchen. Loud noises unsettle me and crowds make me nervous.

In other words, I’m not at all suited for the kind of atmosphere you’ll find at most wedding banquets in China. You know, packed with at least 100 (and often more) people and often so noisy it’s difficult to carry on a conversation at the table.

Indeed, I’ve left more than a few wedding banquets in China wishing I’d just spent that time reading a good book instead.

How do you feel about wedding banquets in China?

Things We’ve Learned About Going Meatless in China From Our Chinese Families

Eating dinner at the family table at my Chinese wedding ceremony -- while I dine on the veggies, my husband goes for the pork.

I’m excited to share with you my first-ever collaborative article, which I wrote with Susan Blumberg-Kason. Susan is the author of All the Tea in Chicago and the forthcoming book Good Chinese Wife, a memoir of the five years she spent trying to assimilate into a Chinese family.

This article grew out of stories that Susan and I swapped over the past year about going meatless in China, and especially going meatless in a Chinese family. Hope you enjoy it.

—– Continue reading “Things We’ve Learned About Going Meatless in China From Our Chinese Families”