The other night, while talking to our close Chinese friend Caroline during Chinese New Year, my husband asked a common question. “Did you go out to bàinián?” Bàinián (拜年), of course, is the tradition of paying new year’s calls to your relatives and friends, usually by going over to their homes.
Caroline laughed with embarrassment. “I didn’t want to go out, I’ve stayed at home. People ask too many questions!”
That’s because Caroline still hasn’t, as they say in Chinese, “solved her personal problem”. She’s a single Chinese woman in her thirties. And because she’s single and well above 30, a sort of unofficial marriage expiration date for young people in China (especially women), her relatives will ask her the bomb of all questions: “Do you have a boyfriend?”
Caroline’s not alone in detesting the questions about her personal life. After all, one of the hottest topics trending on Chinese social media in the lead to Chinese New Year was Counter Annoying Chinese New Year Questions From Relatives.
Even I’m not immune to such questioning. John and I still have no children, which makes the questions “Do you have a kid?” or “Are you planning to have a kid soon?” — questions I frequently get from Chinese friends and relatives — sting at times. Of course, my mother-in-law doesn’t even bother to ask us; she just simply tells me I’m “too old,” which does wonders for my self-esteem! (Not.)
In the end, everyone has always explained to me that such questions are a way for others to show they care. In China, people consider one’s life truly settled and happy when you’re married with children — and so, in a sense, it’s natural that they’re concerned when you don’t have the “entire package”, so to speak.
Just too bad that their potential questions, meant to show concern, left Caroline too concerned to even consider heading out the door to visit.
UPDATE: On a similar note, do check out the “Chaoji Shengnü (超级剩女 Chāojí Shèngnǚ)” comics created by Roseann Lake, Leo Lee and Ryan Myers, a comic series with a fabulous superhero devoted to saving shengnü (like my friend Caroline) from all of those folks who want to know why they’re NOT married. Very cool!