Guest Post: Nothing Can Prepare You for Living with Chinese Relatives

Becky writes, “there is nothing within a traditional British upbringing that can prepare you for living with Chinese relatives.” If you’ve ever lived with Chinese family, this post is for you.

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slothloveWhen Disney taught me about happily ever after, they forgot to add in some additional clauses about cross-cultural relationships. In particular the challenges that accompany a AMWF (Asian Man, White Female relationship). Thus when I fell in love last summer to the sweetest, gentlest man I’d ever met, I never realised that the happy ever after I’d always longed for had inadvertently sent me on a cultural collision course. In fact, despite being in my mid-20’s, I assumed, as my good friends Cinderella and Pocahontas had once taught me, that love could, and would, solve everything.

As I’m rudely awoken on the other side of the planet a year or so later by my boyfriend’s mobile, I can’t help thinking I may have been a little naive. I pretend to be asleep despite knowing exactly what will happen next. Sure enough, within minutes the doorbell, which his mum has erected in his room, starts ringing. From this point I know that my cuddle time is very shortly to expire. As if on cue, I hear shouting in Mandarin coming progressively closer and, before I have time to move, his mum barges into the room and begins tidying around us.

It’s hours before I’d planned to get up. It’s Saturday. I want to cry.

I’d never planned to be in this position, but after my partner’s student visa had expired and following eight-months struggling with the many nuances of long-distance relationships, we’d decided that enough was enough and so, despite protests from my friends that I was crazy, I packed my bags and headed to live with my boyfriend, and his Chinese parents.

A month into the experience and I can say categorically that there is nothing within a traditional British upbringing that can prepare you for living with Chinese relatives.

In the UK, we are taught to strive for independence, in China children are taught to be deferent to their elders. In the UK we value personal space, in China the concept doesn’t really exist. In the UK we are reminded that it’s the taking part that counts, in China people are reminded that success (which is largely measured by the size of your bank balance) is what matters.

None of these things are right or wrong but the gulf between the two can, at times, seem unbridgeable.

Perhaps the hardest thing for a westerner trying to make AMWF’s work is that you have to completely redefine your concept of space. The fact that you are a grown adult and have been making your own life decisions for many years ultimately means very little. For example, you will be asked many times a day about your food; what you’ve had, when you had it and would you like anymore?

This is nothing more than an expression of love, and to be treated with such hospitality is something you’d be unlikely to find back at home. Nonetheless, when the first question you’re asked each morning is what are you having for breakfast, it can get a little grinding.

For all the times I want to scream (and there are many), there’s the time I get to spend with my best friend. The truth is that however hard it gets, being without the person you love would be far worse.

For those considering moving to the East to be with their loved one, you must be aware that the step you are trying to make is a huge one. You will feel nagged, claustrophobic and completely alien. If that sounds daunting, then it’s meant to. But if your partner is prepared to make you part of his family, and you’re prepared to sacrifice so much in moving to be with him, then it sounds like your awkwardly packaged happy ending might be something worth fighting for.

penanghillBecky is a self-confessed golf addict blogging about the world’s best, quirkiest and most obscure golf courses at The Nomadic Golfer.

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9 Replies to “Guest Post: Nothing Can Prepare You for Living with Chinese Relatives”

  1. Haha, you are just in your twenties, there is a long way to go for happiness (or challenges, who knows?). But it is better if you have your own residence independent of the in-laws. Out of sight, out of mind. They might influence you through their son or your husband, but now there are more and more distractions available to turn away their attention, like a grandchild or square dance (group dance in public squares). Haha, good luck.

    1. Thanks for the comment Lao Zhang! It would be ideal to live apart, though I know sometimes it’s a case of the family not wanting to be apart (could be b/c of in-laws expectations or the son’s expectations) or it not being financially possible. I suspect one of these possibilities is at play here.

  2. Aww, you and your boyfriend look so happy together 🙂 :-). I agree with Lao Zhang that you need to get your own place! I lived with my parents for 6 months as an adult and it isn’t something I would ever do again.

    I think living in China as a westerner can really work out well sometimes – there seem to be more opportunities here work-wise and and I love the family oriented culture. Wishing all good things to you both on your adventure together!

  3. Wow. I just had an inconclusive discussion on same issue. Came to the blog to post a question, and here is Becky writing about it! Thanks!

    (Now, how DO you stop people barging in when you’re sleeping?)

    1. Ouch, Marion, I’m so sorry you’re struggling with these things! Have you talked to your partner about it? I feel like that’s always the first place to start. Sometimes you can also come up with culturally acceptable reasons why it’s best not to bother you early in the morning…your partner can be helpful on that score.

  4. This is the only cultural issue we’ve ever had! My mother and father in law are the kindest most amazing people in the world but OMG. When I had my son they came to stay for six months and I seriously almost tore my hair out and curled into a ball and died. The cultural difference was like a truck to the face. They wanted to do everything for my baby and they were ALWAYS around. It made me seriously nuts. I found after finding what was worth fighting for I was much happier. I made sure they knew I was going to be the primary care giver and they were there to help- not the other way around! And barging into my room was 1000% unacceptable. Other than that they did things their way- and I mine. There was a huge learning curve but you can find a balance! Good luck and you guys are adorable!

      1. I’m in the same boat as you right now Hypnocorg. My Chinese in-laws are very nice people but, they are very overbearing now that I have a child. It can be difficult but, I’m trying to be as firm as possible without being mean. I’ve learned that you need to stand your ground no matter what because in the end, it is your child and you can’t let anyone tell you how to raise them.

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