Andy Drives a Hard Bargain (#35)

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So…what is the difference between a payment and a gift?

When I met my Chinese-American fiancé, he already had a nice little townhouse near the beach in Los Angeles. He had a very nice muscle car. He’d clearly spent a lot of money on dance lessons.  After I met him, he spent even more money on dancing. He gave me expensive presents, including a platinum and diamond engagement ring. Until I met his parents, I had no idea he came from an exceptionally frugal family.

My first hint was the couch his family had clearly bought in the late seventies. All the weird orange parameciums and yellow amoebas were perfectly preserved against the pristine brown background. The couch didn’t have a mark or a stain on it.  It wasn’t until the second time we visited his family that I saw the clear plastic covers they used to protect the sofa cushions. 

“Were those there before?” I asked.

“Nope.  My parents took them off to impress you.  Watch.”  Andy unzipped a cover, whisked it off with a theatrical flourish, and announced, “See?  Just like new!”

I winced and poked a paramecium.  “Of all the patterns to preserve…”

Andy sighed.  “I know.  I know.”

Every time we went to dim sum with Andy’s parents, we parked in a parking garage.  Every time Andy took the parking ticket from the electronic dispenser, his mother would snatch it out of Andy’s hand and put it in her purse.  She made sure the restaurant stamped the ticket, and only she handed it to the parking lot attendant when we left.  I finally asked why.

Turns out that twenty years ago, Andy lost the parking ticket.  His parents had to pay a whole $10.00 instead of getting free parking after dim sum.  The way his mother snatched and protected that ticket, you’d have thought it was a chinchilla and Andy had tortured adorable baby mammals as a child.

Andy always drove his parents around when we’d visit them in Hawaii.  Andy always drove like a maniac.  Despite this, they trusted him with a twenty-thousand-dollar car and their lives.  Yet, he made one ten-dollar mistake and he was the Unforgiven of Parking Tickets.

Once Andy’s youngest aunt, Sam-Yee, visited Hawaii while we were there.  We went to a different restaurant for dim sum.  It was inferior, but Sam-Yee refused to go to the regular dim sum place.  Fifteen years before, she had won the Chinese Battle for the Check.  When she paid, Sam-Yee added a tip…only to later discover that the tip had been included in the original check.   She never forgot, and she never forgave. 

The entire Chinese family, of course, understood.  No one ever tried to talk her into going back to the better restaurant.  But loyalty only extends so far – Andy’s family always went to the better restaurant when Sam-Yee wasn’t around.  If they hadn’t been personally cheated, they saw no reason to suffer.  (The Chinese family is apparently the antithesis of the Italian family.)

I figured that Andy’s couponing was the only remnant of his money-conscious childhood. 

I discovered my mistake when we met with wedding vendors.  When we left the florist, Andy shook his head over their estimate.  “This is a lot of money for flowers, honey,” he grumbled as we bumped over New Hampshire’s frost heaves.

“It’s not just flowers and bouquets,” I argued. “There’s going to be a gorgeous fall garland draped around the gazebo!”

“Yeah, and that’s more than half the total cost, which makes no sense.  I mean, dead leaves are free, right?”

“It’s not for the leaves.  It’s the labor involved in stringing the garland,” I explained.  “It’s over twenty feet long.” 

Andy bitched and moaned about the cost.  He threatened to make his own garland.  He complained all the way to the Lake Nowhere Inn, our future wedding site. 

His good humor wasn’t restored until he got to sample six different entrée possibilities for our reception – for free. Afterwards, Andy was so mellow he didn’t even try to haggle with the Inn’s wedding coordinator over the cost of the reception.

And then we came to the rehearsal dinner.  Since we were dragging all our friends and the majority of our families to New Hampshire for the wedding, we’d decided against having the traditional rehearsal dinner.  (Also, Andy’s parents were still miffed that we weren’t getting married in Hawaii. Their silence on the subject of the rehearsal dinner was DEAFENING.)  Instead, we were renting the Inn’s two-level steamer ship the night before the wedding and having a dinner-dance cruise for all the guests.  This seemed only fair, since there’s not much to do in Nowhere, New Hampshire.  If guests were going to fly so far, we had to make it a weekend event, even if it cost us more.  At least that’s what I thought.

Andy thought differently. When the wedding coordinator handed him the estimated cost for our cruise, he flinched.  His mouth dropped open as she itemized the cost of the hors d’oeuvres.  His eyes grew glassy over the boat’s rental fee.  After the estimate for the open bar, Andy put his head in his hands.  Then he abruptly stood, asked for the location of the nearest bathroom, and fled.

The Nowhere Inn’s wedding coordinator gave me a nervous look and consulted her notes.  “Um, since you’re having the rehearsal dinner, the ceremony, and the reception here, maybe we should give you a discount…”

I raised an eyebrow at her.  “Oh, I think so.  Unless you were also planning on supplying a less cost-conscious groom?”

I later found Andy shivering by the gazebo. I hugged him and handed him the revised estimate.  “Shrewd move, babe!  We got a 10% discount on everything and she’s going to throw in a free pastry bar for the cruise!” 

Andy gave me a tentative smile.  “Yeah?”

“Oh, yeah.  Very clever of you, pretending the cost was making you feel sick!  Did you learn that from your mom?”

Andy, looking down at the estimate, shook his head.  “Wasn’t pretending, honey.  It’s a LOT of money.”

“It’s not even close to the cost of your car,” I teased.  Andy failed to smile.  “Really?  You really felt sick?!”

“Kinda.”

“But…” I waved my engagement ring in his face, and touched the gold and emerald necklace he’d given me for my birthday.  “But you bought me these!  And your car is a super expensive Mustang Cobra!  And the dance lessons!  And you never complained about the cost, so why…oh.  OH!”  It hit me.  

You’re smarter than me, right?  You already figured it out, right?  You know EXACTLY what expensive cars, expensive townhouses, expensive dance lessons, and expensive jewelry all have in common, right?

In case you aren’t smarter than me:  They all have the potential to get help a guy GET LAID.  

I was torn between the outrage (did he think I had to be BOUGHT?! Wait, HAD I been bought?!) and laughter. Andy looked so wretched, the laughter won.  “Oh, babe.  Tell you what.  You’re giving me the wedding I want, so you can have the honeymoon you want.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“Whatever I want, not your insane plan to walk all over England and Scotland?”

Good-bye, London Tower, royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle…  “Yep.”

“You know we’re just gonna lie on a beach somewhere, right?”

“Whoa!  I am NOT trading the realm of kings for Hawaii with your parents –”

“Hell, no!  That won’t work for what I’ve got planned.”  Andy gave me a lascivious smile.  “We’re only gonna lie on the beach during the day.”

 And that is how our wedding/honeymoon became the last and greatest purchase my frugal Andy ever made without a single complaint about the cost.

Because getting laid trumps being cheap every damned time.

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Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

21 thoughts on “Andy Drives a Hard Bargain (#35)”

  1. You had me laughing right from the get-go with the sofa and parking ticket stories!!

    In all honesty, I am with Andy. Weddings are expensive and they can easily get out of hand and cost an arm and a leg and then some. However, it is important to remember that it is one of the most important days of your life as well. It is great that you are treating the people who are making a special effort to be there to celebrate with you.

    1. Thanks, Constance!

      You are right, weddings can get out of hand. As I remind Andy constantly, the best reason for having the wedding in NH was the cost was half of what an LA wedding would be. (Also, no sales tax. He dug that.)

      It’s all a juggling act between the couple’s wants, the parents’ wants, and the pocketbook.

      Certain parents were more…difficult than others. Stay tuned…

  2. I have a Chinese friend. I haven’t seen her since she moved to Nowhere Vermont but you have helped me understand her (I think). One time we went to Burger King. The order taker asked if she wanted a cheese whopper or without cheese. Without a blink she asked, “how much does the cheese cost?” After a lot of calculations (which I had already done in my head) the order person said something like 16 cents. She said, without cheese. I told her I would pay for her cheese if she wanted it. She made me crazy when we went out. She rarely tipped. She never tipped her hairdresser because a haircut already cost too much. I think it was $30. Perhaps she’s related to Andy’s parents?

    1. If Andy’s family is anything to go by, the emphasis on saving money starts very, very young. It makes sense for any impoverished family, especially if you come from a country where the population is large and the food/ resources are scarce. Add a few decades of war, and a refugee mentality, and frugality is paramount.

      The goal is to spend as little as possible, so why would you tip if you didn’t have to? That’s like giving money away!

      To be fair, I’ve seen a lot of ugly Americans traveling in Europe, dragging their cultural expectations with them. “This is not a towel! This is strip of linen!” “Where is the hot water?” “What do you mean, we have to WALK a mile?!” “What? How can a restaurant be closed from 2PM until 6PM?”

      It’s hard to kick your own culture to the curb and deliberately attempt to assimilate. Although, my Korean-American boyfriend once told me how hard his father tried: “Son, in American, you’re supposed to have sex with your girlfriend. You don’t wait till marriage. So go do that.”

      “But, Dad, we just started dating–”

      “No excuses! You go have sex!”

      1. OMG! That’s hysterical! My friend is in her 70s. Her family emigrated to Malaysia from China during the Japanese invasion. She was raised by her aunt which led me to believe she lost her parents in the trek. She was tough and resilient and won an English scholarship in return for 2 years of volunteer service. She made me nuts yet I admired her. She had a lot of trouble connecting with her son. She adopted him here and he rebelled against her cultural traits which made the family stick out despite the fact that she married an American.

        1. Yeah, Kate, admirable is not always easy to live with. I always find it sad when parents become too controlling and inflexible. And sometimes the smart survivors have no patience for those “weak” souls who have an easier row to hoe. 🙁

  3. So first, I feel I should apologize because all my comments seem to be “Great story…so anyway about MY upcoming wedding….” I’m sorry, and I will try to do better.

    Then, I have about 63 different things going through my mind, since we have hit that stage of the wedding planning. (Actually, we’re well past that stage, but these things keep popping up.)

    Finally, I think I’m going to sigh and chalk it up to the wedding planning equivalent of a bad acid flashback and go on with my day.

    1. Ha! Never apologize for talking about your wedding! Especially if you have horror stories. And they are funny. Or cringe-worthy. Share with abandon.

      Especially if your in-laws are crazy.

      Also, “great story” is always welcome. No matter how many times you say it.

    1. Yes, people can go a little nuts with the wedding! Then they look back and go…”Wait. Why didn’t we elope?” So think of how much money and anguish you saved by getting it right the first time.

      1. Since my daughters got married here, I was basically in charge of planning their weddings (plan, discuss, ask for approval). It was a lot of work, but after it was all over, I could really see the value of having a wedding. With all the friends and relatives there, it gave the bridal couple strength and support. It also gave both families a chance to get acquainted with each other (down to the last second cousin) as well as all the other people in the couple’s lives.

        1. You did it all? For multiple daughters? Did you get a medal? Undying gratitude? Or at least lots of hugs?

          I suppose it is nice to be acquainted with the other family, especially if you live nearby. But for my married siblings, we’ve met their spouses’ families at the wedding and never again — mostly because the in-laws don’t live nearby. Do you see your son-in-laws’ families frequently?

          1. I do see both sets of parents every year even though I live in Seattle and they live in Virginia and New Jersey. They’ve become good friends. I took a cruise to Alaska with one set of in-laws. I’ll be seeing them again in May for our shared-grandson’s HS graduation. I see the siblings and their families every so often. I seldom see the aunts and uncles, but when I do, it’s nice to know who they are.

  4. It’s funny how people never let things go. It sounds like something out of a sitcom, but it’s so true!

    My husband and I had a shotgun wedding (due to visa stuff, not pregnancy) and it was very simple. Yet we still spent about four grand. Go figure.

  5. Shotgun visa wedding! Sounds nice and dramatic. I’ll have to go find that post, I must have missed it.

    Yeah, even the simplest wedding are expensive. And now they have dance choreography, too. It’s a whole production.

  6. Pfft, I know someone who’s not Chinese (native of my country) and is exactly like “How much does that cost? What?! No way.” In a way, I find it funny, but on the other hand, it’s really annoying because he also does that when it comes to cheap stuff. ._.

  7. Haha the parking ticket story is hilarious! I totally agree that when men do fancy things it is usually to get laid. My Chinese fiance still does thoughtful things (occasionally!) but the big romantic gestures are very much in the past. Now it is like “I remembered what toothpaste you prefer and bought that, see I think of you!”

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