Welcome To America!
In the early 1980s I helped arrange a delegation visit from one of China’s interior provinces to North America. It was the first overseas trip for the Chinese delegates. They were understandably quite excited.
After a brief stopover in New York, we arrived in Toronto.
Our first visit that first day in Toronto was to a fairly high-tech printing plant in the suburbs. After the factory tour, our hosts served coffee, tea and some snacks, and gave each one of the delegates a baseball cap with their company logo on it.
The grateful delegates put on their blue baseball caps, and off we went in several cars, heading for a fancy private club downtown where we had been invited for lunch by an influential business group.
Halfway downtown we passed by a suburban branch of the Canadian bank to which the Bank of China had wired the delegation’s travel money.
The group’s interpreter and the delegate who had been put in charge of financial matters by the group leader, went in to see if they could obtain their funds at this Canadian bank’s branch.
I went after them because I had a feeling they might need some help . This was, after all, their first visit to a bank in a capitalist country, and only the second or third day of the visit at that.
As I walked through the doors I realized I had failed miserably as the delegation’s guide. I had been too busy with other things to pay attention to the significance of that day’s date, so I did not alert the group to the fact it was Halloween Day . Big mistake on my part.
In recent years, awareness of Halloween in China has grown, in part because many hotels, clubs and bars organize Halloween-themed parties and promotions. But in the early 80s, very few people in China had ever heard of Halloween or the customs associated with it in North America.
Normally, Halloween parties and the custom of young children wearing costumes and ringing their neighbors’ doorbells in search of candy occur on the evening of Halloween Day . On this particular occasion, however, Halloween started a bit early. All the staff in this particular bank branch were wearing wild and crazy Halloween costumes. Welcome to North America!
The staff costumes included a cowboy, a space man, a devil, and several ghosts. The woman teller that the two first-time visitors from China were talking to was dressed as a clown, with wild fluffy orange hair and a big round red rubber nose.
In their first visit to a capitalist bank, my two delegates were earnestly engaged in conversation with a clown.
They were trying very hard to appear to be perfectly relaxed and at home in the capitalist banking system, not wanting to appear like country bumpkins, but rather experienced old hands. They showed no sign of being surprised in any way.
To add color to the scene, they were still wearing their bright blue baseball caps, so they blended in rather nicely with all the other costumes .
By the time I reached them, the capitalist clown had explained they would have to go to the bank’s head office downtown to obtain their funds. They took this calmly and were beginning to head for the door when I intercepted them.
I asked if anything here in this bank struck them as unusual. “No, not really. Just fine.” was their answer.
I explained that it was Halloween and apologized for not warning them beforehand that people sometimes wear costumes, even – once in awhile — in the work place on this day.
I continued my explanation of the background of Halloween after we got back into the car with the delegation head, Mr. Wong. He listened with interest, but I had a feeling they all thought the whole thing was quite bizarre, especially costumes in the work place.
Shortly thereafter we arrived at the private club for lunch. I had been warned that, like many upmarket private clubs, it was a bit of a formal, stuffy, conservative place.
Therefore, when Mr. Wong and the other delegates got out of the cars and headed for the club entrance, still wearing their bright blue baseball caps, I called out to Mr. Wong suggesting it would be better to remove the caps before going in.
Poor Mr. Wong was now thoroughly puzzled. “But you just said it was Halloween?! ”
I tried to explain how it could be possible that the spirit of Halloween was much stronger in the capitalist bank branch than it was in the upmarket private club.
I have never, before or since, been into another bank where the staff were wearing costumes.
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