Lucky Money for Big Kids

Since this is my first year working in business in China, I was introduced to a new tradition this week.

Everyone (well, almost everyone) came back to work on Monday after being home with family for the Spring Festival holiday. I was told by the CFO that we need to do 开门利事 kāi mén lì shì (also apparently written 开门利是), and the responsibility fell to me to do it. This (of course) made me very interested to know what in the world it means.

Basically, it’s a 红包 hóngbāo (often translated as “lucky money”) for adults.

The standard “red envelope” tradition goes like this: unmarried children can get lucky money from their parents, relatives, or close friends at Spring Festival time (but the kids often give all the money to their parents who then give some of it back to the kids to buy things… it’s complicated!).

But the “open door lucky money” that I handed out to employees is more about the symbolism of starting the New Year right rather than financial gain (which I’m sure is how the kids think about their hongbao-s). It means good wishes for our working relationship this year, and also for the company’s business, oh and also for your own personal health and success.

Since I’d never done anything like this before, I actually did a little rehearsal with the CFO. I asked her what to say and what they employees might say in response. That’s when I learned this new phrase:

  • 开工大吉 kāigōng dàjí = (wishing you) an auspicious start of the work year

Replies ranged from standard ones (more here):

to simply thank you (usually double dose 谢谢谢谢 xièxie xièxie).

But one thing is for sure: everyone was really, really happy to get it.

It was fun for me to do because it was so clearly important to everyone.

One guy wasn’t here on Monday and he came in to my office on Thursday for me to sign some other thing. After I signed it I saw he was still just standing there. I said, “Was there something else?” and he kind of looked nervously around and didn’t say anything so I asked again. He cleared this throat and said, “Uhhh… hongbao?”

哦!太不好意思了!对,你周一不在,我忘了!对不起!” I replied and quickly got his hongbao and wished him a (retroactive) auspicious start to his work year. He laughed and left the office smiling.

I also smiled to myself as I realized (for the thousandth time since starting this new job), just how much I still have to learn!

I’d be interested to hear about anyone else’s business traditions for the New Year. Also, for the native speakers out there (if there are any that read this!), do you usually see this written 开门利事 or 开门利是? Feel free to write here.

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