Why Are You Clapping?

I recently went on a business trip to Thailand with our company President, A, and his brother, B. While there, A and B’s friend, J, took us to dinner on a couple of nights. The amount of Thai food we had was so much, I was sick by the third night that I headed to MacDonald’s by myself. They had the most tasteless fries I’ve ever tried.

But that aside, the Thai food we had was awesome. They tasted so good, both A and B were clapping away. That looked odd to me. Imagine having dinner with someone, and they suddenly say, “The food is very good! Wow, Thailand!” and they start clapping. That happened a few times and I just couldn’t wrap my head around that form of expression.

On the last day, while on the way to the airport, we dropped by J’s brother’s cafe and car wash place which looked really beautiful. It looked so beautiful, A and B were like, “Your cafe is very nice” and they started clapping again. In my mind, I was like “Why are you clapping?” How is clapping a form of response to a delicious dinner or someone’s beautiful cafe? If anything, any applause toward something that is not a performance is just demeaning. It feels like, “Well done, kiddo! Keep up the good work!”

That reminded me of the time when I was in secondary school and while gathered at the assembly hall, the discipline mistress went up stage to give a talk. When she was done and heading down the stage, everyone clapped. That made the discipline mistress stop in her tracks and she headed back to the microphone and said, “Why are you clapping? Am I performing? Was that a performance? Don’t clap.”

I couldn’t understand that back then and thought she was just being an ass. But as I get more opportunities to talk in front of people, I grew to understand why she said what she did and it does feel very odd to be given applause for something that is neither a performance nor a speech.

Perhaps it was their way to express the level of amazement they feel in a language that is not their own. After all, they were trying to communicate in English and it was so delicious that the word “delicious” was not enough to show how tasty they think it was.

I’ve never tried to clap when trying to communicate severity of any thought or emotion to someone who doesn’t share a common level of a language.

Do you clap?


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