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#121 Having Nice Things and Not Using Them

Posted July 3rd, 2009 by Peter · 11 Comments

Here is another great post from Shuan S. about Asian stinginess with new things. I see this all the time with my mom, grandparents, aunts, uncles– all the elder asians I know basically. We hope you enjoy this post!


Asian people are known for their frugal practicality honed from centuries of living in rugged, war torn and hand-to-mouth conditions; but like everyone else in the world: they appreciate the prestige, feeling and value of luxurious things.  With many Asians now earning disposable income their ancestors could only dream of, expensive things are only a click away.  While they feel good to have the trappings of wealth, a major internal conflict arises: using things will result in devaluation from wear (but not using them will result in waste).  Eventually, every Asian resolves this conflict by getting nice things, but using them as little as possible.


While this can manifest itself in many ways (#79 Plastic Furniture Covers for example), none is more pronounced than Asians’ automobile habits.  Whereas most people drive their nicest car to impress others, Asians prefer to drive the most worn out car available to them, reasoning that they’d rather not put miles on or risk damage to their nicer car.  They will also make sure that people know they have a nicer car, however, as this makes Asian people happy — to have the prestige of a nice car, without having to actually use it.  In extreme cases, Asians will even consider buying a beater car if they find themselves using their nice car too much.  It would be child-labor-cruel to point out to them that cars are inherently depreciating assets.

The less flashy places to look for this trait are Asians’ wardrobes and tea.  Vintage clothing shops love getting their hands on like-new items Asians wear only for special occasions (blood relative weddings barely qualify).  Well, the vintage shops would if it weren’t for the #28 Hoarding. As for tea, Asians have been known to forego expensive loose leaf imported stuff for prepackaged Lipton bags they get for free with a continental breakfast (months ago, so as not to “waste” their good tea).  That is how strong the instinct is.


The legacy of this behavior has not gone unnoticed.  Legend has it that some of the first European explorers to reach Asia were greeted by villagers who welcomed the foreigners.  The explorers were fascinated by silk cloth, porcelain dishware and vases, yet were taken aback when they were served their first meal in chipped and stained bowls and cups.  Upon seeing that the locals also ate in such bowls, they realized the villagers meant no offense by it, and concluded that the nice porcelain pieces they saw earlier were simply ornamental.  And that is why to this day, the word “China” is synonymous with both the largest country in Asia, and finely decorated dinnerware that is kept in pristine condition in an expensive cabinet and never used.

Very insightful, Shuan! Keep it up, and we hope you can all share your experiences as well in the comments.

Peter out!

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Tags: Activities · Culture · Customs · Food & Beverage · Habits · History · Hobbies · People · Relationships

11 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Twitted by wastedpuppy // Jul 28, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    [...] This post was Twitted by wastedpuppy [...]

  • 2 Lee // Aug 12, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    Growing up, whenever I got nice stuff as gifts, my mom would tell me not to remove it from the packaging or use it so as to preserve its newness. I always thought this was ridiculous, until I started noticing myself doing the same thing! I’m trying to stop this habit, though I love the smell of new products — shoes, bags, electronics, etc.

  • 3 Candace // Sep 1, 2009 at 2:10 am

    Right… as if non-asians never think of cars as something that could make them look better/more classy. This is definitely not specifically an asian quality.

    Why does this double standard exist? If an asian person drove an expensive car, they’d automatically be labeled as a brand whore. If a white person drove the same car they’d probably less crap.

    Asians — stop giving other asians double standards. It’s already difficult getting this from non asians.

  • 4 easy spender for a dad // Sep 9, 2009 at 12:39 am

    it’s true that expensive things look better when they seem unused. but my dad prefers to use the new stuff he buys as soon as possible. not to show off, but he likes the satisfaction from using something that he’s payed good money for. they’re like little rewards for working hard to make the money to afford such things.

  • 5 dbals // Oct 16, 2009 at 1:00 am

    This is so true with Indians too…You may have noticed asians (& Indians) driving their new car with the factory installed seat plastic cover still on. It is not just cars, Bikes, Motor cycles, TV, Fridge etc. I remember watching TV through the plastic film for a week when we got our new colour TV.

  • 6 Chunk // Jan 8, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    When I read this, I thought this habit was just found in my sisters. Could it be an all out Asian thing? I guess so. For some reason or other, my sisters like to protect the box covering on their CDs, tape cassettes, records, and DVDs. They protect it by keeping and maintaining the original plastic covering the item came in. My sisters say they do this to keep the actual box cover from being covered in others’ grimy fingerprints. One of my sisters’ former boyfriends actually described it as having a protector for the protector that protects the CD or DVD. So my sisters have actually managed a technique to expertly open any CD or DVD (even tapes and records when we were growing up during the 70s and 80s) to where they have managed to keep the majority of the plastic covering intact! The plastic is so much intact that when people look at the CDs and DVDs, they think that they haven’t been opened yet, which isn’t true….for the most part, since my sisters also fall under that category to where they will not use anything so as to prevent or reduce its wear-and-teare. And if I open any of their such material and throw away the plastic or ruin it so that it’s not usable anymore (since I haven’t inherited the ways of that secret technique), they get really upset, like I ended up scratching the CD or DVD, instead. I always humorously thought this was just my sisters being anal about their stuff, but after reading this article, it’s starting to make sense in a very funny way.

  • 7 Anonymous // Feb 6, 2010 at 1:01 am

    it isn’t only your sisters who keep the plastic covering on their CD or DVD, I’m guilty of doin the same thing. I have a technique, too. All my video games, CD and DVD are kept in their original plastic covers. I think it’s logical, all my possesions are limited edition collectors items.
    And I’m not Asian, though the more I read this blog the more I beging to think I’m Asian on the inside.

  • 8 Haolepake // May 15, 2010 at 3:15 am

    I was so happy to find the perfect gift for my dad: a GPS for his car. Then I noticed that he never used it. “Why haven’t you used your new GPS, Dad?” I asked. “I don’t want the suction to make a mark on the window.” He replied. “Can’t you just wipe it off?” I asked? We went round and round with this until it finally came out: “I don’t want to use the GPS because someone will see it in my car and break in and steal it.” Thus, a perfectly new GPS sits in his house, where it will remain…pristine.

  • 9 Simon // Jul 21, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    buying expensive things and not using them?? that sounds like America to me…

  • 10 Che // Nov 7, 2010 at 6:27 am

    Back in the early 90′s, my friend’s dad bought a new Maxima with leather interior. A short time after, while he was driving us to church, I noticed the leather seats were gone and instead were just regular fabric. I mentioned to my friend that I thought I remembered leather seats. He explained, his father didn’t want to use up the leather and so he got them covered with the regular stock fabric. I was only about 9 at the time but even then was I realizing how crazy Asians were. Btw, I’m Vietnamese-American and they were and still are very close family friends.

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