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Meet the Parents (of Your Chinese Girlfriend)

第一次见岳母大人

Meeting the Parents of Chinese GirlfriendRecently I got few emails from men who planned to visit parents of their Chinese girlfriends and asked for tips on how to leave a good impression on them. Since this is a very important topic, I feel that it would be helpful to post these tips here on the blog. If you have anything to add – feel free to leave your comments in the end of this post.

It is important to note that if Chinese girl has invited you to meet her parents – this is a very significant sign meaning that she is serious about your relationship. Take it in account when you decide to accept or decline the invitation. If you read until here, I suppose that you are interested to accept it.

It is natural if you feel nervous and have a lot of questions. Let’s try to figure out answers to some of them.

First of all, what about gifts to her parents? In western countries flowers are always a good idea, but in China it is not a very popular gift (especially for older generation). So, it’s better to ask your lady what her mother is more into. You can also get some ideas from Jocelyn’s gifts-giving guide.

As for her father, if he is a smoker (which is unfortunately true for most of Chinese men) a block of cigarettes would be a good choice. Beware, however, that your attempt to be original might create troubles: Chinese are superstitious – so make sure that your gift has no negative symbolical meaning (like watch or clock, pronunciation of which in Chinese is similar to “death”).

If there are going to be other members of the family, ask her about Chinese way to address them. It will make them happy and help you to create a good and friendly atmosphere.

If you are invited for a dinner, make sure to come hungry and be ready to eat a lot !!! Everyone will urge you to eat and constantly fill your plate, you should not disappoint them ;-)

By the way, this will be a good chance to demonstrate your skills in using chopsticks. Practice in advance if you are yet not comfortable with them.

Kissing and hugging your girl in front of her parents is not the best way to prove your feelings since the older generation frowns upon public display of affection and intimacy.

If the parents of your girlfriend live in the countryside you might encounter some additional “surprises”. You are a foreigner, stranger (“laowai”) and some curious neighbors might find an excuse to come over, say “Hi” just to have a chance to peep at you. Please, don’t be angry or feel offended. Try to understand that you are different and treat this situation in a friendly way.

Finally, you might find that the toilet in their house is not the regular flush one you are used to, but the squat toilet. You will have to figure out its usage by yourself and my only tip would be to not lose your sense of humor. :mrgreen:

The most important advice that I can give you: if you have any fears or doubts, talk with your girl in advance and she will help you. And don’t forget to check out the article about how to leave a good impression on a girl herself.

Good luck!
Your sincere friend, Crystal Tao.

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37 comments to Meet the Parents (of Your Chinese Girlfriend)
  • Perfect, totally agree with all of that. Also, don’t be surprised if you have a name that is difficult to pronounce in Chinese (or whatever local dialect they speak), that they may just name you “foreigner”. This is what happened to me. My girlfriend’s family only know me as this name (but in the Wenzhou dialect).

    If you’re squeamish about any food, then tell your girlfriend beforehand, because if it’s on the table, then you’ll probably be made to eat it. And finally, if the father is accompanied by uncles then be prepared to drink….a lot.

    I find that although it can be a little strange not understanding what everyone is talking about (Wenzhounese is just a noise to me), if I just smile, eat, and drink with the others, then it can be a very pleasant dinner.

    • scarlet

      That strikes me as sad that they have not bothered to learn your name. Have you tried giving yourself a Chinese pseudonym? Chinese are happy to treat a new Chinese name as the Chinese “translation” of your native name, in the same way that they seem to like giving themselves English pseudonyms even in the rare cases that their names are easy for English speakers to pronounce.
      Also, them speaking Wenzhounese sounds like the complaint I hear from my Ningbonese friend visiting his in-laws in Hangzhou (even though they are both Wu dialects). He says he just understands the 是这样吧 at the end of his father in law’s sentences and agrees with whatever unknown sentiment has just been expressed. Courtesy generally means you speak Mandarin in front of guests from other places, but tradition is that elders often ignore courtesy since a) East Asian society encourages the elderly to indulge in stubborn behavior b) they grew up in old china/cultural revolution and don’t know any better. An idea could be playing the dumb foreigner and saying 再说一遍, 我听不明白, 请说慢一点 after each and every sentence, pretending you think they _are_ speaking Mandarin and are trying fruitlessly to follow it. Eventually they should just switch to Mandarin just to shut you up.

  • Ouch! Thanks for reminding about drinking. That’s really something a guy must be ready for. :roll:

  • Hi Crystal, thanks for the link to my gift guide!

    Nice article, as I often get similar questions. I answered one about how to impress the parents on a visit during Chinese New Year — a lot of my suggestions are very similar to yours. My readers added a lot of helpful advice in the comments as well.

    Keep up the nice writing, Crystal!

  • David R.

    Thanks so much for doing this blog. I live in Shanghai and am trying to find a real GF, not just a fling. The advice you provide is both pertinent and useful.

  • David, thanks for your comments. Wish you can find a wonderful girlfriend!

  • I’ve been in this situation a couple of times, and it’s kinda nerve-wracking, but the best way to win the parents’ hearts is to see their daughter genuinely happy with you. When I met my wife’s parents for the first time, they were naturally a bit hesitant about their daughter being in love with a tattooed American teacher, but I held my own, and she gave me lots of support, and now life is peachy. It also helped that I was immediately nuts about her mom’s cooking :-P .

    Btw, I run a blog about tattoos in China, and I’m curious about a Chinese girl’s perspective on tattoos. Maybe one day you could do a post about it. :?:

  • Mark,

    Thanks for sharing your perspective. It’s encouraging to know that genuine attitude can overcome cultural differences.
    An article about Chinese girls’ attitude to tatoos seems a good idea :!:

  • James Roberts

    oh great!! Like I wasn’t nervous enough before-Me with my long hair, spider web tattoo,black rose of death and of course the tattoo of a heart with a knife though it, not to mention my nipple ring (all from my days in the service) I gave up drinking years ago and now I’ll be drinking and eating questionable food and possibly facing a squat toilet with a trick knee. :shock: My luck my knee will pop out of place and I will end up rolling around on the bathroom floor. Well Crystal I do not know if I will make a good impression but I bet I will make a lasting one!!

  • Haha, James.
    At least you have a good sense of humor, and it will definitely earn you some points ;-)

  • Thomas J.

    Another great entry, keep it up Crystal! :razz: I think that many westerners leave a very bad impression on their girlfriends parents because they simply do not educate theirselves about Chinese culture, or simply do not respect the culture. I am not implying that anyone should bend-over backward to please your in-laws..however, most likely the girl is the only child and you are showing up to essentially take her away. Chinese girls ARE VERY filial (well, at least the good ones) and the step of meeting the parents is probably more influential than any other part of your relationship up to this point. OH, and I like the squat toilet..haha. I really liked watching the “new guys” going into the airport bathroom at Chongqing airport each time…so memorable. :cool:

  • All men who commented here so far are very polite. Seems that my blog attracts nice guys… :lol:

  • Phillip

    Don’t expect the father to like you too much, it’s this universal thing, fathers can’t help it. The key is to show that you treat his little princess with affection and respect. And the way I see it is that everybody likes showing off once in a while. So when it comes to giving presents, try something not only worth showing off, and can be showed, you can buy them expensive tea, but who is gonna walk around holding a tea cup these days, so might as well buy a watch or a scarf.

    And the dialect. My relatives in Shanghai and Jiangsu are very proud of their own culture and heritage, since the majority of Chinese have a lot in common, nowadays they feel inclined to focus that pride on their dialects.

    I understand Shanghaiese well, but I’m not very fluent in it, so whenever I’m staying with my Shanghai relatives, it’s like this: they talk to me in Shanghaiese, and I speak Mandarin. They never said anything about it, but I can see that they are pretty disappointed. It’s the same with foreigners, if you talk to them in Mandarin, they won’t feel very connected, and if they have to speak Mandarin with you, well, that’s gonna suck, especially to the younger generation(just imagine asking the French to speak English). So learn at least how to greet people in the local dialect, doesn’t matter how lame you sound, it’s the gesture that counts. It will amaze you how one (stupid) dialect can bring you so much closer to her parents.

    小声:中文标题是否应该是“岳父母”?

    • scarlet

      If your relatives are disappointed about having to carry on half of the conversation in the one official language of the People’s Republic of China rather than being shocked and flattered that you can understand their dialect at all, it confirms all of the complaints I hear about elitist Jiangnan people. My migrant friends get asked in the census 你为什么来我们上海?(侬为啥来阿拉上海?) as if they are somehow invading this city built by migrant workers. Remember that there are 1.3 billion people that HATE Shanghainese and believe firmly that their language is a tool to exclude poor people from conversations, this is the cultural pride you talk of.

  • Hi Phillip,

    Regarding the dialect, this is an awesome advice. I myself being a native Chongqing girl know that my parents would be very happy if my boyfriend knows some Chongqing dialect. :lol:

    感谢提醒!对的,字面上看起来应该是“岳父母”。但我们通常把拜见岳父母这一事件说成拜见岳母大人。 ;-)

  • Ke Jie

    Well, I am very much enjoying your blog and the information is so helpful. As my departure date draws near for my first trip to Hangzhou, I find myself obessively focused on gifts for my girlfriend and her family. Here is the laundry list of items I have purchased for the trip… I’m certain customs is going to think I am running black market items… :roll:

    Girl Friend: 4 special peices of gold and diamond jewelry, an autographed Lebron James jersey, chocolates, bath and body works lotions. (OH and ME :mrgreen: )

    Girlfriends Father: *gulp*… Nice box of cigars (10) with cutter in a decorative box, U.S. States quarter colletion with nice holder and a 100 years of flight coin (I fly airplanes as a hobby) so it is meaningful.

    Girlfriend’s mother: *double gulp*… Chocolates and Bath and Body Works lotions

    (I plan to give parents a small red envelop with $9,999 RMB)

    Grand Father: 1/2 Pound of Ginseng and Fish Oil Supplements

    Grand Mother: Chocolates, Fish Oil Supplements and Bath and Body Works lotions

    Brother, Wife & Child: State quarter collection, chocolates, Bath and Body Works lotion, Learn English childrens books, Learn English flash cards, Yo-yo’s and Slinky.

    3 Cousins, Wives & Children: Chocolates, Bath and Body Works lotion, Learn English childrens books, Learn English flash cards, Yo-yo’s and Slinky.

    Male Colleage: State Quarter set and coffee

    Female Colleage: Bath and Body Works lotions, Chocolates & name brand t-shirts.

    So that is my list so far, I’m going shop happy :oops: So Crystal, any suggestions???

    Xie xie

    Ke Jie

  • Thomas J.

    Ke Jie,
    I am impressed with the amount of things you are taking her family, but do you feel you need so much? Sometimes you can make an impression with simple gifts and also your actions. The giving of money to the parents, from my understanding, is more a token as a wedding gift or comittment, but you say you are visiting her for the first time. You should focus on showing overwhelming respect for her parents and their culture and earning (not buying) their acceptance of you. I am not suggesting that you are trying to buy them, and maybe they are very wealthy people and your girl has recommended these gifts for you..if that is the case, then I apologize. It is just the vast majority of Chinese earn much less than the average American, so such largess can be overwhelming and in some cases create an unwanted “bar” that you now have to meet or surpass with future visits. I hope you have a good time, focus on the moments, and immerse yourself in your new “potential” family’s culture. Good Luck!

  • Ke Jie

    Thomas

    Great comments. To answer you. I am unfortunately a giver… Sometimes too much and I try to pick out gifts that have a meaning to me. I collect coins and fly airplanes hence the focus on the coins. For my girl, I just want to “spoiler” her in a good way and let her knwo she is very important to me. As for the cultural respect, I have several chinese friends and began studying mandarin in January as to show respect to the culture and to my hope to be future inlaws. As far as money, I was not certain if it appropriate and nor is my girlfriend… So some things are a trial and error. I also have a weakness for children, so it seems everytime I go shopping I see something “I” ummm I mean the 4 year-old nephews would enjoy. I have a little kid in me that will be plying with them. LOL Perhaps, the non-cash gifts are the best. I will discuss with my girlfriend. I suspect I can give the little ones a red envelop with 99 RMB for good luck?

    Xie xie Ni,

    Ke Jie

  • Dear Ke Jie,

    The list is very impressive! :shock:

    I just hope that you are not going to create some unrealistic expectations with which you would have difficulties to cope in the future.
    Since you describe yourself as a natural giver, there shouldn’t be problems. However, if you are going to modify the list – please refrain from making it bigger.

  • Ke Jie

    Crystal:

    I suspect you are right. I think I will moderate my gift giving. I can tend to go overboard in gift giving… A habit I need to break. ;-) I will speak with my girlfriend to make sure I don’t go way overboard. :oops:

    Xie xie

    Ke Jie

  • So… if I have a special kind of cigarettes from my hometown called “White Mum Clock” cigarettes. I could give that to the father-in-law? Is that ok? Ha ha ha!

  • TLB

    Crystal, could you address the Chinese notion (not just Chinese but very wide-spread I am told) of reciprocal giving? I am also going to meet future in-laws for the first time (though I’m of, um, an “earlier” generation so the rules are probably different)and need gift ideas.

    On the one hand, it seems lots of Chinese think all Americans are rich (I hope they begin to modify that as the yuan begins to further appreciate versus the US dollar!) so maybe giving a lot might be expected; on the other hand, I’d hate to put her folks, siblings, etc. in a position of feeling like they need to reciprocate and can’t afford to.

    Your exchange with Ke Jie is most interesting and gave birth to my questions.

  • I can’t predict the reaction of the girl’s family to excessively generous gifts, but my gut feeling says that if you give too much – they will be just very astonished (but not feel bad or owing to you).

    My only advice would be to make sure that you YOURSELF and your lady feel comfortable about it. Thus, I urge you to talk with her about your doubts…

  • Alexandru R.

    Nice! Xie-Xie for this! It’s very good! AA.. off topic, why don’t you make an “Facebook” account? It is more easy.. Anyway…. I like your articles. I’m from Romania – Europe and I want to continue my studies in China. I’ve meet lovely people there (from internet). I’m glad that I run through this article! :) ;-)

  • Hi Alexandru,

    Good luck for your studies in China.
    Thanks for your advice – I will definitely setup a page in Facebook. It’s in my plans ;-)

  • Alexandru R.

    Ni hao! Xie-Xie! I will waiting your page! I don’t want to sound impolite , but I’m one of your fans! :oops: :roll:
    Being off topic… That’s way I like USA , because of the cultural diversity! In my opinion , the best relations are from two “different” cultures. Because we complete each other ! I think so… Anyway , in USA it’s easy to find chinese people! In Romania ….it’s very hard , almost impossible… . That’s why I like USA! Sorry for off topic !

  • Marty

    I’m a newcomer having just discovered your great site from a link you left on another forum. I would like to add that if you are offered white wine, be under no illusions that this is the white wine you know from the west. This stuff would power a rocket and can be 30 – 50% proof. Your glass may magically never be empty and you will be expected to drink each time someone decides to toast. Handle with care :cool:

    • Nick

      I’ve heard that baijiu was closer to pure ethanol. I don’t drink, and fortunately my sweetie and her family (at least brother and sisters – I’ve not met the parents yet) all know that I don’t drink and they’re cool with it. They’re happy to see _her_ happy since she’s the oldest other than the brother.

  • Behind Blue Eyes

    I was not prepared to eat or drink so much on my first day with my no ex’s parents. My plate stayed full no matter how much I ate which was the same the next five days. GanBei(Cheers), is a good word to know if her dad is a drinker which hers was. I agree with Marty that stuff is potent and never ending. I even had beer waiting for me with breakfast.

    As far as gifts. I brought alcohol and money. And they loved it.

  • Marty

    Some useful words to remember “wo bao le” (I’m full). This will be understood without causing offence and will probably cause some amusement. ;-)

  • Nick

    I have not met my angel’s parents yet, but that is on the agenda for my next trip there. (Our last two trips together were outside of China, or it would have happened sooner.)

    After a couple of trips, I finally just got my sweetie alone for a few moments and ASKED her about the squat toilets. Fortunately, she was familiar with western sit toilets, so after she stopped laughing (and realized I was serious) when I explained that we do not have squat toilets in the US, she taught me the secret to using them successfully.

    At the risk of causing embarrassment to our sensitive readers, I will explain how anyone wearing trousers or shorts can do this…

    On a sit toilet, you normally pull your trousers or shorts down to your ankles. On the squat toilets, keep them just above or JUST BELOW the knees and you’ll be safe. Just be sure you don’t have anything sticking out of your back pockets, or you may lose it. (pro tip – pulling your underwear DOWN OVER your trousers waistband may prevent things from falling out of pockets.)

    I know – most of the people who regularly contribute here already know this, but I hope this will save someone on his first visit to China some embarrassment.

    (They have squat toilets in some places in France, by the way.)

    (I actually prefer squat toilets – much more hygienic.)

  • Bored in Sydney

    If you get the chance to visit the remote parts of China you will be partly glad to use a squat and sorry you needed to use it at all. I am seen some truly repulsive things in my life and the ‘pond’ behind the open toilets in a village in remote Yunnan is well above anything else at the top of my list.

    Luckily my mandarin is pretty good and I have met a few parent’s of ex girlfriends in the past so apart from the normal stuff like the drink games and how to not give away more than required to have face in the money games I hope to avoid more traps for your players (payers). My cautionary note is that some of the ‘customs’ around many Asian cultures are well designed to ensure that outsiders end up making a significant investment. On the other hand if you do it right you can be made to feel very welcome and part of the clan.

  • China Shark Mike

    Squatting in China is so very Chinese and Japanese. Check it on any given street in Japan or China young and old will drop into a squatting position at the drop of a hat. Strange thing when I was first exposed to it living in Tokyo back in 93-94. I find that the squatting stance relieves pressure from the lower back. It’s a cultural thing but find myself doing it when tired waiting at a bustop. Comment on the white wine, it ain’t white wine it’s pure Chinese white lightning. Kerosene is what it tastes like. It’s foul and disgusting yet if you like to drink you get used to the taste after the first two shots burned off the tastebuds. Funny thing is little or no hangover that is so common with scotch and other amber colored alcohol. I don’t drink much but when in China do like the Chinese. I’m from Irish descent so I’m always drinking my friends under the table when I choose to imbibe. Even if you don’t drink I think making the exception to the rule cements things better with the local Chinese. I quit drinking for 20 yrs and only started drinking with close friends about a year ago. Chinese view it as why will he or she not drink with us. Believe what you may it is a face thing. The only exception would be to claim you’re a degenerate alcoholic. I plan on getting loaded when I marry my girl, Chinese believe the more you drink with them the more you actually care about thier culture. I know I trust a person more if they’re willing to have a few drinks with me. Simple pschyology, walls are knocked down, the real person emerges under the influence of a few spirits. What my girlfriend or my wife’s family thinks of me is the most important thing. If you have a bad liver, etc are the exceptions to the rule.

  • haha no

    when i visited my inlaws for the first time, a coupe of years ago, it was terrible.

    after 15 hours on a Z train hard seat. I got to the house (in the middle of no where) with no air con (35c heat), no seats except the floor and a rug, and bed was a run with a blanket on the floor.
    I was constantly sweating (get out the shower and dry youself, then not sure if you dried yourself or not sue to teh lay of sweat) and hated every minute i was there. tired, hot and totally needing to get back to a small city with a hotel and air con.

    well, i was dragged around everyone’s house in the village then taken to the public toilets on the edge of the village so i could do a crap, my now mother, was worried as i hadnt been to the toilet for days.

    after trying to make my self as brave as possible (to walk past the big spider guarding the door)
    I made it inside and found a smell that could have killed a elephant. Then to my total horror, the roof…. covered in very large spiders, the walls next to the toilets, covered in crap and spiders and things walking around,,, i ran out of there without leaving my deposit. (ended up taking a crap in a plastic bag) then didnt crap again for the rest of the week.

    I was a total bustard due to how uncomfortable i was. I before i left i was taken to a pond of types where i could swim and cool down,,,, needles to say, i came out of there looking more like a prune than a human.

    The one saving grace was that i knew i was being a bastard and apologized for my behavior.

    they have installed a air con to make me more comfortable during the summer and it can do hot air for the winters. I am now a very welcome (overly so) and valued hard working and loving member of the family.

    Something I have noticed while being in china is while i am good with people for a short amount of time (2-3 weeks constant interaction (literally 24/7)is fine). but when it gets to months of no time and space on my own, I get irritable as hell.

    My family here have learnt to give me a day or so one a month on my own, to recuperate and do my own thing. After that I am back to my normal cheery happy self.
    give me 3 days or more on my own and I miss the interaction of people and need people again.

    In the early days, If i had been them, I would have told my daughter to find another boyfriend, I do not have the patients that they have shown me.

    So, to wrap this post up. WELL DONE CHINESE PEOPLE :grin:

  • GentleGiant

    I chose the gifts I took for my GF very carefully, Some (tasteful)silk underwear, a glorious red and green pashmina, and a wide variety of chocolate (so much chocolate I got stopped at airport security and made to empty it all out!!!)

    As I am a big softy I also chucked in a red bean-filled love heart; she loved it, and it has pride of place in the middle of her bed.

  • Kristen

    Wondering about cigars. Are these a good gift for a man in China who does you a favor?

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