Every Chinese New Year, I dread visitors who choose to come around meal times to greet my mother. Not that they are angling to eat with us — that’s not the case for the overwhelming majority — but because it’s convenient for them, either after they have eaten or are on their way to eat elsewhere.
With some practice, I’ve instituted some semblance of order by extending an invitation for such visitors to eat with us while visiting, and they can accept — which means I make allowance for extra mouths — or reject clearly, in which case my family and I can eat with a clear conscience, while the visitors nibble tidbits and we talk across the space between the dinning area and the TV area where the sofas and chairs are.
Kudos to those who say OK and then give a clear indication of when they will be dropping by; how many will be in tow and yes, they would love a meal.
What gets my goat are two other groups.
First is the group who accept my invite to eat when visiting but will not give time or how many of their family members are coming. Then about half an hour be4 lunch or dinner time, they will call to say they are on the way, as if I’m a restaurant and can rustle up dishes for extra mouths at short notice.
The other group will not say when they are coming by and just call on the off chance to see if we are at home.
Again, that often happens around meal times.
But on the phone these would-be visitors will decline all offers of joining us at the upcoming meal, even if my mum tells them, “one more person means just an extra pair of chopsticks”, a Cantonese euphemism to encourage them to say “yes”.
Then comes the truly annoying part.
Visitors arrive; we are about to start our meal; we repeat our offer (out of courtesy rather than sincerity) to join us for a bite and lo and behold, it turns out that not all of them have eaten. Even those who had probably had snacks.
And we end up having to share the food meant for three or four with another four or five.
Something that would have been unnecessary had we been given even 30 minutes of lead time. Accept our invitation the first time lah.. instead of being keki and then put me in a spot by agreeing to eat on arrival.
I know the visitors initial “no” is because they don’t want to put me to any trouble. I only wish they realise that such misplaced keki actually amounts to bloody inconsideration.
Yet how to say this in so many words to blood relatives and some of the oldest friends of the family?