Gung Hay Fat Choy! Three Ways to Avoid Causing an International Incident

Source: Flickr (cc) beggs

Wishing you prosperity!

It’s Chinese New Year and we are welcoming the Year of the Rabbit. Every aspect of this holiday is filled with tradition and meaning. And, as my friend Joanne pointed out to me, most of it involves food and eating.

The first sign of celebration is when the lion dancers invade the office. A cacophony of drums, cymbals and gongs announce the lion who winds his way through the cubicles. All work stops. Along the way the lion “eats the green.” Be sure to feed the lion some green (i.e., money) to insure prosperity in the new year.

During New Years gifts of food are exchanged. And families gather for feasts. Each food brings its own good wishes for the new year. Oranges are for good luck and wealth. Noodles are for long life—the longer the better. A whole fish is for abundance. Gao symbolizes reaching new heights. Sweets bring a sweet life.

Gao? What’s that? Sweets? Uh oh.


Source: Flickr (cc) Nate Robert

This is where it gets interesting…

Careful not to insult your host or the person giving the New Years gift. This unfamiliar food might be full of sugar, rice and carbs. And that means there’s a danger of blood sugar spikes. What do you do?

  • Ask about the food, what’s it made of, and what it symbolizes. If you ask with sincere curiosity people are generally happy to answer. It gives them a chance show pride in their culture.
  • Have a small bite if you can tolerate a taste without your blood sugar going completely wacko. It’s the polite thing to do.
  • Look up the nutritional information for unfamiliar food and dishes. The University of Hawaii College of Agriculture and Human Resources has a great website for this. It’s called Hawai`i Foods, Nutrition with aloha. On this website you can search for specific foods, and browse categories of food. I think the browse option is more useful because sometimes I’m not sure how to spell the food’s name. There’s even an option to view the results as photos. This is really handy when I have no idea what something is called. But what I like best about this site is that it has foods from a lot of different cultures (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Mexican, etc.)

Happy New Year!