One thing you won’t hear at a typical Asian dinner gathering is ‘Do you mind if I kill that?” or ‘Were you going to finish that?” This is because Asians like to not take the last piece of food on a plate.
This Asian cultural idiosyncrasy leads to some very peculiar phenomena at Asian social gatherings. For example, you will typically see an Asian person take some plate containing a small amount of food, take only half of it, and put the plate back. This may happen for several cycles, resulting in a whole table of plates with absurdly small amounts of food remaining on them.
The more mathematically inclined might be thinking right now, ‘Ah, that’s all fine and good for continuously divisible food such as noodles or vegetables, but what about food that comes in discrete units, like ice cream bon bons or mochi balls?” That leads us to another typical Asian behavior called taking the second to last piece of food.
You might ask, ‘Well since the last piece of food is taboo, isn’t taking the second to last just as bad?” It isn’t. In fact, those who eat with Asians often should get in the habit of spying plates with rapidly disappearing quantities of food and getting some before there is only one piece left. Such reflexes are the key to maintaining proper decorum while getting enough food to eat at the same time.
Why is this behavior so prevalent among Asians at the dinner table? Perhaps the Asian emphasis on community over individual plays a role. Also, the Asian tendency to use indirect communication and therefore try to anticipate others’ needs does too. Either way, make sure you grab the food you want before there’s only one piece left.
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