In my case I had studied some Chinese (but not well enough to understand them–plus they both have “accents”) and had been to Taiwan before (though not in this situation). From their point of view, their 30-year-old daughter (oh yes, I’m sure that was a factor) had just come back from a year of studying in America, and surprised them by answering “yes” to the inevitable questions from her sisters about whether she had found an American boyfriend.
Fast forward a few months to when I flew there and met everybody. My first impression was that everything was a little bit dirty and creepy. The TV was turned off that first night, but never again thereafter, as if they were vigilently monitoring world events via the aptly-named TVBS (whose theme song I soon memorized). They kept their dog in a small cage, and to add that perfect Stephen Spielberg touch, there was this huge Chinese altar in the middle of the room with flickering neon lights on either side.
The father was quiet, the mother too at first but I soon came to think of her as Godzilla. She is loud. (I mean, I’m half-deaf and I still cringe when she shouts up the stairs.) Gradually I begin to discern their actual personalities, and also see what tough and resourceful people they are. (They struggled through war and poverty and ended up putting five kids through college.) The daughters were all just normal Taiwanese, though I remember being taken aback by the brother’s habit of nonchalantly farting at the dinner table.
Another important aspect of my first impression is that their family was huge, from my point of view. Those first couple of days I had to meet about a dozen family members. Since then I’ve created a little chart for the benefit of my own relatives (and one of mine for theirs). By all means, do that if we’re talking about very many people. Oh yeah! The family is not only big but also close, in ways that we rarely see back home. If money were no object, I’d see my relatives once or twice a year! They had several thirty-year-olds living with the parents (but two have since moved out–both nearby) and the daughter who’d married brings her family over every couple of weeks.
As for their impression of me, I must have struck them as funny-looking, and I know they think of me as tall. (Actually they’re short.) Eventually the mother got around to asking me whether I stood to inherit money from my father. They asked whether my family worships our ancestors. They asked whether my hair color (brown) is natural. (Yes, for now…) I remember having some trouble explaining that “father’s wife” does not equal “mother,” which must have produced some consternation.
After that first stay, my girlfriend asked her father what he thought, and he said something to the effect of “We’ll support whatever you decide, but it’s not easy to marry a foreigner.” (Which is perfectly true.)After I came back and built a career here, and made friends with their grandchildren and the dog (who had been put in the cage mainly for my benefit–little did they know that I love dogs), I guess they started to think of me as a normal part of their lives.
Anyway, good luck, and let us know how it goes!