So I’m living in China with my boyfriend. We have lived in China for the majority of our relationship, and I am learning Chinese full time. His little sister is getting married next week and as a consequence his Mom takes every opportunity to ask me when we are going to get married. There are some reasons this sits uncomfortably with me:
1. It is assumed that we are getting married but we haven’t really talked about it openly.
2. I would kind of like the surprise proposal if we ever did get married, and being constantly asked about this completely spoils that.
3. His mother obviously assumes that because I have lived here for a few years now I’m going to stay here forever (which I’m more and more certain that I don’t want to do).
His mother’s questions are so direct that it’s impossible to answer vaguely, and so I’m at risk of stepping on some cultural sensitive points, when really, she’s the last person I want to be talking about it with (before me and my boyfriend have even talked about it properly).
She thinks that I should stay in China and teach English and that’s the end of the story – so I had to tell her that I don’t necessarily want to stay in China for the rest of my life. How can I put this message across to her more politely without offending her, and giving her the idea that actually, me and my boyfriend need to talk about it without family pressure bothering us?
I hate to say this, but welcome to Chinese culture — where everyone is in your face about things that we consider highly personal and private. Like marriage and having babies and even where you plan to live. (See my past Ask the Yangxifu column on Dealing With “How Come You Aren’t Married Yet?”)
Every time I go back home to John’s hometown we always get asked, “When are you having kids?” There’s nothing we can do or say to stop people (mostly family) from inquiring about it. They will ask! Trying to explain or tell them not to will create misunderstandings or even put a dent in our relationship. It’s just not worth it.
Instead, here’s my suggestion — don’t take it too seriously. Really. As personal and and imposing as the questions might feel, the reality is that people often ask as a way to show care or concern (not unlike asking about someone’s health).
Sometimes I’m even convinced my family members ask us about having kids because it gives them something to talk about!
Next time his mom asks when you’re getting married, the best way to answer is “Soon!” (快了，快了! Kuài le，kuài le!). Chances are that will satisfy her and she won’t trouble you anymore.
My husband and I always say “soon” whenever someone asks when we’re going to have kids. But guess what? We’re NOT having kids any time soon. And yet, every time we answer like this, it really works. They stop asking about it!
So just smile and say “Soon!”
You could take a similar approach to all of the questions about staying in China. Just tell her, “Okay, we will think it over.” (好的，我们考虑考虑。Hǎo de，wǒmen kǎolǜ kǎolǜ.) It’s not a lie because you have thought it over (or are thinking it over). And again, chances are she’ll feel happy about your answer and change the subject.
Maybe this isn’t the answer you hoped for. But I’ve just found that you’re better off responding to questions like these with a positive and vague response. The positive part makes them happy, the vague part means you’re not actually promising anything. And here’s the thing – in Chinese culture, people are comfortable with vagueness and uncertainty. In all likelihood, nobody’s going to follow up and ask “How soon?” or “When?”
Instead, they’ll probably just move on to something else and you’ll be safe. (Until the next conversation, at least!)
What do you think? What advice do you have?
Do you have a question about love, dating, marriage or family in Chinese or Western culture? Send me yours today.