Thank You Power
In Asian culture, hospitality takes precedence over all else. Table manners, even when eating with your fingers, are read and analyzed to reveal your true character. How you hold chopsticks is a sign of not only dexterity, but also rank and position in society. Making your way through a 10 course Chinese meal in the 3 hours allowed, without dropping anything from those sticks is tantamount to cultural acceptance.
Grace is given for foreigners.
The Island Club in Singapore is a very prestigious place. The pinnacle of club culture, this sticker cost is over $150,000 per year and the Chinese dining room is known by society around the world. I was shocked when a friend invited our short-term mission team to have lunch with her at that club. Giving the “best behavior” lecture and a short instruction on letting the friend carry the conversation, I was petrified when one of our team members, after chasing an escaped shrimp to the floor, arose with the declaration, “This is the best mission food I have ever eaten.”
Silence filled the room.
10 courses take a long time. The rice is last, to fill in the cracks, and small portions of each course are to be eaten with conversation filling the space between course deliveries. Timing and pace are controlled by the host with a nod of the head. The guest follows the lead of the host saying, “I will follow you,” when asked what you would like next. There are no seconds and everything is wonderful even if it is marinated sea cucumber.
“You don’t need to do that.” The tone was terse and I was stunned.
“I’m sorry.” I quickly apologized not knowing what had happened.
“We don’t say thank you to the servants. It is not our culture.” I was amazed at how serious she was.
“They are just doing their job and do not require thanks with every serving. It is their duty and they are performing it without interaction with the customer. It is a culture norm in everything here.” She had not been offended but felt the need to instruct me.
For the 27 years since that lunch I have tried as hard as I can to say “thank you” as often as I can, especially in Singapore. The response has been amazing. From drivers to dentists, bodyguards to parliamentarians, Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Vietnamese, all have appreciated a meeting of the eyes and a thank you. In actual fact the common word for “please” and “thank you” is the same word.
Recognizing even the simplest things a person does for us is a key to seeing ourselves lower than others. It is the mind of Christ that will one day give us the wisdom to solve the problems of nations. It is Jesus in the Upper Room taking up the towel.
Ten lepers were healed and only one came back to say thank you. It was to this one that Jesus said, “Your faith has made you whole.” So many of us take the service of others, even a healing touch for granted. We feel that in some way we deserve to be served rather than to serve.
“So Jesus answered and said, ‘Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?’ And He said to him, ‘Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.'” – Luke 17:17-19