Chinese reflections on British life

Over dinner with some Sichuanese chef and restaurateur friends in London, this is what I was told: “The other day a Romanian woman came into my restaurant alone, and ordered several dishes. When she had eaten half the food, she called me over, and complained that one of the dishes was too sweet, and one too salty. Politely, I invited her to have a couple of other dishes to replace them, and sent out two more, complimentary dishes. Then she asked for the bill, and said it was too expensive, and she couldn’t afford it. I pointed out that all the prices were listed clearly on the menu, and she still said she couldn’t pay. Eventually I told her I would call the police – and I did. But when the police came they said there was nothing they could do, even though they agreed she had probably done the same thing at countless other restaurants. So they left, and the woman got away with her free meal.” [NB this is a fine example of the practice known as bawangcan 霸王餐, tyrannical eating, which you can read a little more about here]

The restaurateur, who has been in London for more than a decade, was shocked and amazed by this turn of events. “I really like English culture, and I do think English people deserve the word ‘gentlemen’,” he said, “But you really take human rights too far here. The government needs to be more strict, and less easy about handing out British citizenship and welfare and so on. If you are too soft, you’ll end up like the United States, with everyone carrying guns. People are too lazy here, too, and because of the prevalence of supermarkets and fast-food joints, they are forgetting how to cook. Honestly, I think Great Britain was Great a hundred or two hundred years ago [NB this is exactly when Britain was abusing China in the most ungentlemanly manner], but these days it’s just ‘Britain'”.

Interesting to hear a Chinese immigrant complaining about excessive human rights, and praising colonial-era Britain… and I appreciate that he thought the loss of cooking skills was one of the major causes of the decline of a once-Great country…

8 Responses to “Chinese reflections on British life”

  1. Ken Fletcher

    If she had no money to pay then she is committing a criminal offence, something any cop would know. If she is refusing to pay because she is disputing the quality or the delivery (but has the means to pay) then that is a civil matter.

    Nothing to do with civil rights.

    She might want to learn what the “Great” in
    Great Britain” actually means. It means ‘large’ to differentiate it from Brittany in France. It had never meant “wonderful”.

    Your friend, sounds like a bit of a racist himself.

  2. Ben Lubis

    I heard similar sentiments from older people here in Japan. They seem to be wide-spread in Eastern Asia.
    While there might be a small kernel of truth about them, I think we shouldn’t be too eager to change the Western world according to the critiques of Chinese or Japanese people. Looking at their societies, which both are not even democracies (Japan only has a very thin veneer of democracy painted on a quasi feudal society) the problems run a lot deeper than a person here or there cheating their way out of a restaurant bill.
    Whenever I voice the slightest critique on Japan to Japanese people, I get a very harsh answer along the lines of ‘if you don’t like it here, go home today’.
    The Sichuanese chef probably won’t get such an answer to his opinions, and I can only hope he understands that in fact is one little aspect why the West is more modern than East Asia.

  3. hopflower

    It is true that the Opium Wars were unfair, but it was after all in the 1800s. Your friend is right about ending up like the United States, though; I see changes going toward that, and it is not good. But the Chinese themselves have held their own down several times in history. Look at Chairman Mao!

  4. Frank Hopewell-Smith

    First of all I’m enraged by that woman. That can’t be the case – otherwise why don’t more hobos eat at Bashu for free? If that is true then find me a petition to prosecute these villans!

    Secondly – It’s weird but I think the Chinese respect ruthlessness – in business as well as well as battles. My friend who lived out in China said that cheating/lying to western businesses was almost a sport – and if you can get away with it then that’s your victory and their loss – they shouldn’t be so trusting and stupid. And it doesn’t keep them up at night.

    It’s a worrying mentality – that’s rather dog eat dog, but I bet you plenty of Western businesses operate in that respect too though.

  5. mminuk

    @Frank Hopewell-Smith: It has much to do with Confucian principles of family loyalty, and degrees of closeness to those you have dealings with. If you are a family member, a friend, or a regular customer, then you are safe, or ‘cooked’, and considered deserving of good service, as opposed to total strangers, who are often referred to as ‘raw’.

  6. Gigi

    This reminds me of a scene in 落叶归根 where Zhao Benshan can’t pay for his meal because his money turns out to be counterfeit. The restaurant owner’s response: if you can’t pay, I want my food back. And so it hapopened…


    Perhaps a fascinating story..On many points…Many of the chefs comment’s unfortunately ring true…And there are many people in the world like that woman…I personally can tell you it is so…So she won’t be back…If she does return…spin her around 180* and send her away, as in.. ” YOU! You get lost before I have you removed from the premises by the police!!! ” …Running a restaurant..indeed starting one and keeping it going, is probably far more difficult than trying to become a rock star or something like that..difficulty at every turn, fickle tastes of the public, employees who are flakes, thieves, or just lazy and stupid, and fickle supply chains…most do not make it here…unless some damn fast food franchise…even then, they fail…It takes a sort of integrity AND possibly ruthlessness to survive.It take VERY HARD WORK, and if he has been there any time, he deserves respect.

Leave a Reply

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS