Waste Not, Want Not
Americans all know the old proverb, “Waste not, want not.” This means if you use what you have carefully, you will never lack anything.
But according to a study done in 1995, American restaurants and consumers threw out more than 41 billion kilograms of food that had spoiled or gone uneaten that year. Most immigrants to the States are shocked, but often learn American habits themselves after a while. It seems to be a part of our culture of plenty, even though wastefulness is always discouraged. For example, parents tell their children “you can't leave the table until you finish your food,” and they nag them to turn off unused lights and appliances, not to leave the doors open (because the house is being cooled or heated), and to save water when possible.
While at my first job and living by myself I finally recognized the value of all my dad and mom's complaining. Every month I got a bill for electricity, heat, and water, so I quickly learned to use only what I needed. I had to buy and prepare food myself, and I made sure to eat everything I paid for. Gasoline seemed to get more expensive each month, so I walked or biked to nearby locations instead of driving. During my three years working, I prided myself in my thrift and planning. By the time I decided to move to Asia, I had saved a respectable amount of money.
And when I first got to China, I was amazed how cheap everything was. Clothes, books, food, and travel were all half or less than what they cost in the U.S. In the States, lunch at a small restaurant usually costs around five dollars, but in China you can eat well for 90￠ or so. I could finally spend money on all the things I'd scrimped on, right?
Not exactly. My Chinese friends soon made me feel embarrassed about my spending and waste. For instance, the imported ingredients for western food are usually over 20 yuan apiece, more than a Chinese meal. At Halloween, I had a 120 yuan kung fu costume made, and for an English class play, I spent around 300 yuan on props6 and costume rentals, all things that couldn't really be used again. I'd take a taxi for short distances. I would throw out a lot of unused food. If something broke, I'd probably put it in the garbage. My friends couldn't believe it.
These days, I am more Chinese. I eat parts of meat and vegetables I normally would have thrown out, and I always take home any leftover food. I spend a long time considering big and small purchases, and don't buy unneeded things just because they're cheaper than in the States. If I can't use something, I give it to someone who can, or fix it myself. I walk and bike much farther than I would have before, and plan my trips carefully. But there are a few exceptions to my “being Chinese.” Naturally, I can't give up making western dishes and an occasional visit to McDonald's. But for the most part, I'm becoming more like my Chinese friends.