Happy Chinese New Year!

If you live here, you better have small bills handy.  The locals give them out like candy to homeless orphans.  You’re supposed to tip nearly everyone who “helps you” or “makes your life better.”  This includes, but is not limited to, housekeepers, doormen, deliverymen, cashiers and gynecologists.  OK, I don’t know about the gynecologist, but wouldn’t it be funny if some local put a little something up there extra for her doctor to find?

“What’s this, Miss Peggy Lee?”

“Happy New Year!”

In Japan, tipping was frowned upon.  You only did it on rare occasions and money never changed hands directly.  You’d put your Yen in these fancy little faggy envelopes with pictures of cranes and ponds on them, and then hand them to the mamasan who just served you tea or made your stay at a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) particularly memorable.

Here in Hong Kong, you stuff your Hong Kong dollars in these traditionally red envelopes before handing them out to your doormen.  That’s the part I knew.  I didn’t know how much we should put in the envelope.  Again, with the “we” thing, because like everything and anything else that might cause embarrassment or humiliation, “we” means me.

Of course, “we” don’t work with seasoned Hong Kong expats and long-time locals who can give advice on this matter.  No, “we” ask our partners who do to please ask at work what it is we need to do to not appear culturally insensitive, stupid, overly magnanimous or cheap.

Did he do this?  What do you think?

So I asked a local woman who is married to a man who is an acquaintance of my partner’s.  Kind of like the friend of a second-cousin twice-removed kind of thing.  She likes to wear plenty of make-up, tight-fitting jeans and her hair up.  Needless to say, this woman has many opinions and likes to shout them out in her loud staccato speaking voice.  I think everyone in the bar not only heard, but took notes.

“You give 50 or 100 depending on man!  You give to him and he be happy!  They happy for anything!   They so happy!”

“Is it OK to give more money to the doormen I like?  Should I give 80 because eight is lucky in China?”

“No!  You give 50 or 100!  It OK to give more to man you like!  He be happy!  They rush to open door from now on!”

She then handed out two red envelopes to each person at the table.  We were all expats, all drunk, and all knew that this seemed inappropriate.

“You give to friend too!”  she said.

When my partner and I got home, we opened the envelopes.  There were two 20s in each envelope.  She gave us 80 each (about $10 US).  Lucky 8s?  Or was she trying to give us bad luck because there was 40 in each envelope?  Four is very unlucky in China.

I’ll let you know in December.

Oh, we had a pizza delivered with the money she gave us.  I tipped extra well.