I was just wondering if you could all give me a little help. I have been dating a Taiwanese guy for a while now, however I haven’t met his family. Last time he visited Taipei he told his family about me, and also about how crazy about me he was, and how he eventually wants marriage! Not in the near future, but he’s certain he wants a future with me… suits me just great!
Only problem is… I grew up in a highly white areas of Central London and Greater London. I have come accross maybe 5 Asians in my life, bar my boyfriend, and have had minimal contact with them. I know as much about Asian culture as I do about cars, and all I know about cars is their colour . I have asked my boyfriend for advice on meeting them, he just said to be myself… I come from a reasonably respectable family and so have good manners, however I feel completely unprepared! I don’t think he really understands it. I mean, for goodness sake if I try to use chopsticks, it mainly involves flicking food all over the walls, my person and the floor, and choosing hunger over more embarassment!
How should I behave? What should I say? I feel so unsure of myself! He dated a gorgeous Vietnamese girl for three years before me, that his family were convinced he would marry, they split up and I think the family was a little disappointed (Though they had all the normal racial misconceptions about the Vietnamese towards her). Now he has me, and while I love that he is proclaiming his love everywhere, and I feel incredibly secure, it has greatly increased the pressure on me to not completely screw this up.
Maybe stress to your boyfriend that manners in England and manners in Taiwan are not the same in many areas, and so he should prepare you for what you will have to do, and what you should avoid.
Can you try a trial run meeting other relatives first?
The problem is one often doesn’t realize something is rude in one culture but OK in the other until you are in a situation like this.
But don’t worry too much and try to be relaxed. If they are awful, no matter what you do, it won’t be right; but probably they’ll be OK and will accept any little slip ups.
We met in London, he was raised in Australia and his family are from Taiwan & Indonesia. We’re not sure where we want to live, it certainly won’t be in the UK. I’m not adverse to living with him in Taiwan for a year or two, possibly longer if we like it, it’s a cheaper lifestyle and I find the culture and heritage fascinating.
Knowing that if we do make the decision to live in Asia that we will see a lot of his relatives is a bit of a nightmare though, it’s terrifying really!
I have explained to him, his main advice is to be polite before he goes into long rants about his brothers “awful” girlfriend…
Since he was raised in Australia, it should be easier for you. His family will be Westernized. Still, maybe find out why the family doesn’t like the brother’s girlfriend, and see if it was just some cultural misunderstanding you could avoid.
If you can’t use chopsticks, practice beforehand until you can or bring your own reusable dinnerware set (they often have them in cute little boxes). Better for them to laugh at you not being able to use chopsticks than to fling food all over the table like a fool.
Always bring presents when you are meeting family members for the first time, and make sure they know that it was you who was so thoughtful (either by your bf mentioning that you brought the presents for them, or by you handing them over yourself and saying "I brought some XXX for you, I hope you enjoy them!). Anything will do as a present, really. Food or drink is especially good, usually some kind of food in nice wrapping or a gift box. If you’re coming from abroad to meet them, you’ll probably want to bring some kind of foreign specialty, from your locale. When living in Taiwan, usually people will bring boxes of pineapple cake or mooncakes or some kind of pastry in a box. What you bring isn’t really important. What’s important is that you’re the thoughtful girl who showed her respect by bringing a gift.
Address relatives every time you meet them. Be sure to look them in the eye and greet them properly (if you speak Chinese, then you might have to call them Chen ma ma or Chen ah-yi or other last name + title combinations. If you don’t speak Chinese… I don’t know). Say hello to all of the most important members of the family whenever you visit (those a generation older or above to you. I.E. His mom, dad, uncle, grandpa). Say goodbye to these people when you leave. Usually a goodbye is formulated in this manner: excuse + goodbye (“It’s getting late now, so we’re going to go home. See you next time!” or “We’re supposed to have dinner with a friend, so we should probably get going now”).
Help with the housework. If you want to appear like a good wife candidate, you should offer to wash the dishes. They might refuse and tell you there’s no need for it, but you should still offer. Even if they say you don’t need to the first time, you should still offer at the second and third time you visit to give the impression that you’re really a good girl who wants to help out but can’t cause they won’t let you.
Other than those things, you should be just fine. You will probably find that they’re much ruder in terms of etiquette/table manners so I wouldn’t worry too much. Just be nice, dress somewhat conservatively and in a girly manner (but in brighter colors. Try not to wear black or white too much at first. Sometimes the older folk will nag and say it’s unlucky to dress in dark colors…), and act friendly and enthusiastic in general, even if it’s really boring. Acting for a few hours is better than having relatives gossip behind your back forever.
lupillus advice are good. but they just apply to any boyfriend/girlfriend family you meet, whether in the west or in the east.
And it is always a bit awkward meeting the relatives of the loved one the first time (west or east… the same…) so as he said, just behave normally and polite.
Try to show some interest to their culture. If you know some chinese words, try to tell them (basic hello thank you good bye is a good start) people always like when a foreigner is making some effort about their own language and culture.
about the chopsticks, my advice would you practice anyway. If you stay for a while in Taiwan, it’s kind of a survival thing here. No chopstick = no food. with this motto, you learn quick.
Someone was kind and helpful enough to post this recently. Please note it’s stated to be circa 1991, so, given the progressiveness that the Chinese culture is well-known for, you can safely assume this is no longer at all representative of your possible future in-laws.
Get your boyfriend to take you out to a group dinner with a couple of Taiwanese/Other Chinese friends in London for a ‘practice run’. It’ll give you an idea of what ‘formal’ Taiwanese dinners are like… pretty mind-opening the first time, but good fun, and will relax your nerves. It’s nowhere near as formal as ‘meeting the parents’ is in England.
Never accept the shots the dad may offer you. They always expect girls to say no; while Dad might be impressed, Mum probably won’t be. Stick to tea. And always pour everyone else’s before you pour your own! (Two hands. Youtube the Japanese way of holding cups and teapots, it looks very pretty and polite and Taiwanese people like that).
Don’t worry about chopsticks, if you smile enough they’ll probably think it’s cute. They’ll be more impressed if you can use them, though.
Steve Crook wrote a good little book called Do’s and Don’ts in Taiwan. Pick it up. Will explain a lot of etiquette. Your boyfriend is typical in having no clue about how to explain culture and manners. He really has no idea that you have no idea and with his bi-cultural background he has never really experienced not knowing what to do. Don’t expect this to change. He will only be able to advise you on the spot when you do something wrong.
I wouldn’t worry about it too much: You sound like a very polite and well-mannered woman and they will recognize this despite any language barrier. The fact that your boyfriend has already dated outside of his own and that his heritage is mixed is also an indicator that the family is likely to be open to meeting you, as opposed to a family that has never had this kind of experience before. Just be polite and attentive to helping when and if you can, especially towards your man. If you fill his cup or anything like that, his mom will likely notice and be impressed.
I don’t really know much about the dynamic of your relationship, but perhaps it’s the case that when you try to tell him how nervous you are about the impending meeting and he goes off about his brother’s girl, it’s simply because he knows that you are a good person and that you have nothing to worry about. I know this has been my experience in meeting my s/o’s families and also with their meeting mine.
For the poster who asked, they dislike the brothers girlfriend Because they view her as a bit of a “diva”… First time meeting them she didn’t get out the car and offer his Dad her front seat or help with luggage, demands to be driven everywhere, the brother is a student and works two jobs and she gets him to send her family money while she sends nothing on a higher wage… Not a great story for her I’m afraid! I haven’t met her yet either, it should be an education
This advice is really helpful, I think as one reply said he just doesn’t know what is or is not normal. I’ll definitely take the advice though, and taking a gift was something I was unsure whether or not was appropriate. The shot thing is also gold, we English are partial to a little drink and I would have probably said yes and been sent off to AA haha!
I think it’s fake it til you make it on this one, I don’t speak Chinese but we’re going to do lessons together (my boyfriend is already fluent but wants to support and help me through it!)
It is pretty daunting, especially to think down to how I pour things, I will have to refine my garish English ways!
Oh and 90% of my wardrobe is Black & White. I do believe I got given an excuse to shop
there are some general donts that dont seem like much. like the already mentioned dont stick your chopsticks in a bowl. and also dont whistle inside a building after its dark… or better dont whistle at all. one of the things that are rather hard for me as i whistle a tune unconsciously nearly all the time when i am at home.
the one about them not expecting you to be taiwanese is a good point. of course it depends largely on the family but for most i would say its like:
they expect nothing from you because you are a foreigner and ignorant and therefore most anything you do will be forgive but every little thing that you know and do right will be a HUGE plus in their eyes… because they dont expect it