She knocked on our office door just like every morning, but this time along with her tired-eyes and bright smile, she had with her six trays of dim sum. Yes, six trays.
Our high school volunteer who had been relentlessly stuffing envelopes for us for the past month brought food from her parents’ restaurant in Chinatown on her last day.
This 16-year-old had happily labeled envelopes, folded letters, stuffed envelopes and hauled them all off to the mail room day after day. She never complained about the work being boring. She never complained when I asked her to make copies of other documents I would need for the upcoming weeks once she was finished with her mail-stuffing tasks for the day. (She was so quick that we couldn’t get letter copy orders and more envelopes from Office Depot out fast enough!) Oh, and did I mention that she came in four days a week for six hours a day? That’s a lot of hours of envelope-stuffing!
The day before her last day, one of my coworkers gave her a Thank You card, signed by all of us, as well as a pack of M&Ms. Apparently my coworker had noticed that the girl had a chocolate affection.
On Thursday when she brought the food for us, I thanked her and told her that she didn’t have to get anything for us and that we appreciated all her hard work in the past weeks. And then my coworker also added that she didn’t have to bring us anything at all.
The girl’s response?
You got me M&Ms.
It’s the Asian curse, I tell you.
Now, I cannot speak on behalf of all Asians (obviously), but there is a strong emphasis of gift-giving in the Japanese culture. Now, our volunteer is not Japanese, but I believe that this gift-giving affinity also holds true in other Asian cultures.
My aunts call it “the curse.”
When we visit relatives in Japan, we always have to go bearing lots and lots of gifts — mostly because we know that they will be armed with lots and lots of gifts to give us upon our arrival.
The Japanese have what is called the “okaeshi.” Translated, okaeshi means “to return.” The okaeshi is thus the obligation to give back a gift once you have received a gift. My aunts therefore call it the curse because it sometimes turns into a never-ending cycle of giving gifts.
Now, the girl probably would have still brought us delicious food regardless of receiving the card and M&Ms the day before. But, that’s also kind of part of the Asian curse — always feeling the need to give gifts.
I am guilty of this. Whenever I take vacation — which is not often — I always feel like I need to bring back goodies for my coworkers because they were left with extra work in my absence. It’s never crossed my mind to not bring back something.
There’s really no way of breaking the curse.