A Valenwhat? Explaining Valentine’s Day to a Chinese Friend (repost)

I’m starting a petition to ban Valentine’s Day in China.  Judah and I had to wait 6 hours (gross exaggeration) to buy two red roses for our girls yesterday.  It was much better when us foreigners were the only ones who felt the pressure of blowing it and all of the Chinese people stood back, stared and laughed.  Now the flower shops are packed with frightened Chinese men who dare not return home empty handed.  Sorry about that China.

Anyway – here’s a fun repost from last year.

Sweet Valentines made by my Valentine Sweety for her
Sweet Valentine Sweety (that’s me)

Like most other Western holidays, Valentine’s Day has landed in the Middle Kingdom and planted it’s flag of sticky sweet, chocolate covered commercialism.  I was excited this year, one because I didn’t forget it and two because my wife and I were actually getting to go on a real date.  After a lovely afternoon foot rub (one of the perks of living in China) and a quite pricy dinner at one of the city’s finest Italian restaurants, I found myself feeling woefully inadequate and riddled with guilt (which everyone knows is the underlying conspiracy behind Valentine’s Day that fuels the sticky sweet, chocolate covered commercialism).  In the five minutes that it took us to find a taxi after leaving the restaurant we saw 37,000 young Chinese women carrying massive, gaudy bouquets of multi-colored roses decorated with sparkling sequins and glitter.  Each stomped with a catwalk confidence and was followed by a pompous young man grinning with the pride that only comes when you get it just right.  My wife, on the other hand, had very clean, relaxed feet and a full stomach, neither of which could be seen by the crowd’s of flower toting, love struck gloaters who were now laughing, pointing and high-fiving each other because the Western guy (who should know something about Valentine’s Day) didn’t even get his wife the massive, shiny bouquet.  I was completely assured that China understands Valentine’s Day. 

However, explaining the word Valentine is not so easy.
My Chinese friend asked me a simple question.  “What is Valentine’s Day?”
“Well, it’s a special day for . . . umm “
She helped me out, “It’s just for people who love each other, right?” 
“Yes.  It’s a day for people who love each other.” 
“So what does it mean, ‘Will you be my Valentine?'”
I had never considered this to be a confusing topic but the more I tried to explain the more I learned otherwise.  “Will you be my Valentine is kind of like saying I want you to be my girlfriend or my boyfriend but I would still say it to my wife who is already my wife so obviously she doesn’t have to be my boyfriend or girlfriend because she already is . . . my girlfriend . . . or was . . . before she was my wife . . .  a long time ago, but she’s still my girlfriend, it’s just that we’re married now.  And I can give my daughter some chocolate and a card, which I would also call a Valentine, that says “will you be my Valentine?” because I love her but obviously not in the same way that I love my wife but it’s still ok for me to give her a Valentine and be her Valentine.  Also, she will take Valentines to her first grade class, that say ‘will you be my Valentine?’ and give them to all of her friends but not because she wants to profess her love for them or ask them to actually be her Valentine because she is not allowed to have a Valentine (in the boyfriend sense) until she is 28 . . . but she can have Valentine’s in the card and chocolate sense now, so in that respect a Valentine is just a nice thing to share with friends.  So it’s not only for people who are in love but it’s still a special holiday . . . for people . . . who are in love . . . or love each other . . . but not always . . . sometimes . . . kind of.

I was glad to be able to clear that up for her.  After further confusing discussions with others on the same subject it was my Valentine (the one with the clean feet, full stomach and lack of roses) who cleared up the dilemma of defining a Valentine. 

What is a Valentine? 

“It’s a noun.” Enough said.  

3 Comments

  1. You have a gift of being able to take experiences and being able to put them into words. This was too good.

    Reply
  2. Well said. And I’d take the clean, relaxed feet over the sequined bouquet any day. I’d tell you to tell Patrick, but he gets that already. 🙂

    Reply
  3. You should have told them the story of St. Valentine.

    :), Stephanie

    Reply

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