I married to a wonderful Chinese man named Hongjie. He is a native of Shanghai and has been in the United States for almost three years. He has met nearly all of my family and next summer I am traveling with him to China for the first time to meet his friends and family. I am really good-nervous and happy yet at the same time I do have quite a bit of reservations.
~His parents and grandparents don't speak English thus I have to learn at least the most basic level of Mandarin in order to speak with them.
~I am pretty decent at using chopsticks, but what are the etiquette for using them in China?
~I have enough trouble pronouncing my husband's name, what do I do if I can't say his family members names? Make up nicknames?
~What if they can't say my name? Should I have my husband give me a simple Chinese name?
~He has told me his grandparents aren't too thrilled that he is with an American, is there a good way to win them over if possible?
~What can I expect his family to treat me like, as their only American family member?
#2 Lu Posted 11 May 2011 - 09:11 PM
For starters, read this thread for some useful information.
Some basic Mandarin would be useful: hello, thank you, that tastes great, simple things like that.
As to addressing family members, they are often addressed by their relation to you (older brother, cousin, mother-in-law). You can ask your husband to explain to you who you will meet and how to address them. That way, you can practice in advance.
Actually, it would probably be good to ask your husband as much as possible about what you can expect of this visit and what would be expected of you. After all, he's the most familiar with his family and knows what would work.
下面这些信息对初学者有用：http://www.chinese-forums.com/in ... ese-parents-in-law/
#3 jbradfor Posted 11 May 2011 - 10:12 PM
Don't point with chopsticks, don't suck on chopsticks (in fact, try to avoid touching your chopsticks with your tongue/mouth), lift up your bowl and use your chopsticks to shovel the rice into your mouth. It's OK to grab food directly from the serving dish with your chopsticks (just don't hunt around for the best piece), and it's OK to slurp noodles in soup.
Have him give you a "real" Chinese name, not a simple one. Perhaps this is a good topic for when you are there?
This might get me in serious trouble with people here, but my advice is to step back in time about 100 years. At least for your first visit.
Be demure. Don't be aggressive. Serve your husband food. After dinner, join the woman-folk in the kitchen while the men go to the living room to watch TV.
Also, as much as you can, eat whatever is served to you, no matter how weird, if at all possible.
If not done already, have your husband show you pictures of each person you are likely to meet, and practice saying their relationship and title. Seriously. Do this over and over until you get them all correct with a decent accent.
And, if he hasn't already, have him tell you a bit about each person (background, interests, etc) so you have something to talk about (if they speak English).
#4 Meng Lelan Posted 12 May 2011 - 05:10 AM
Browse Speaking of China for some of your questions especially the one about acceptance as a Western spouse, all kinds of topics here:
#5 xiaocai Posted 12 May 2011 - 06:07 AM
May not be necessary if she is dating a Shanghai man.
#6 rezaf Posted 12 May 2011 - 07:27 AM
Yes you should NEVER call the older generation by their names in China.
They might use their own chopsticks and put some food into your plate. Don't get surprised when they do that as it means that they care about you.
Actually in Shanghai men are responsible for the kitchen stuff ;) but since you must show them that you can take care of your husband you should wash the dishes at least. Wait until everyone has finished then bring the dishes to the kitchen. They might try to stop your as you are their guest but don't be fooled, in their heart they expect you to do that. You should help in doing the housework before they tell you. In China there is a clear line between the members of two generations. So respect them as much as you can.
And don't forget to bring gifts for them.(the more expensive the better)
#7 aristotle1990 Posted 12 May 2011 - 07:32 AM
Yeah. Best if you get a 500 RMB bottle of wine and "accidentally" forget to remove the price tag.
#8 kenny2006woo Posted 12 May 2011 - 10:17 AM
Welll, this is probably true but not every one is obssessed with vanity.
#9 rezaf Posted 12 May 2011 - 11:40 AM
You Know China better than me but in my experience expensive gifts are very important in Chinese relationships and can greatly affect the way people judge about you. I'm not saying that it's the only factor but it certainly is more important than in the west and it certainly is a very fast and useful way for her to win some points in her first visit.
#10 kenny2006woo Posted 12 May 2011 - 11:55 AM
I have but to agree with you. :)
#11 HedgePig Posted12 May 2011 - 01:26 PM
While I agree with much of the advice given, I think it's worth saying that despite all the rules mentioned, I think Chinese people are generally quite forgiving towards foreigners. If you are making a sincere effort to try and fit in, people really do appreciate that effort. The odd lapse or mistake or using the wrong form of address is not going to result in instant excommunication, so I wouldn't worry _too_ much about memorising all of the the million and one rules that you've been told about here and elsewhere, or panicking if you forget one.
I've also heard that you shouldn't be entirely surprised if your husband's behaviour changes on returning to China as he reverts to the role expected of him by his family, which may be somewhat different from his everyday behaviour in the US.
I'm sure you'll have interesting (in a good way) and enjoyable time - don't worry too much about the forthcoming trip.
#12 gato Posted12 May 2011 - 01:36 PM
As a daughter-in-law, I don't think it's prudent to bring any gifts that are too expensive because it could make them think that you are a big spender (i.e. spending your husband's money). ;)
#13 rezaf Posted 12 May 2011 - 07:58 PM
Not necessarily. When I was dating my wife(my girlfriend at that time) more than two years ago, my Chinese was bad and I didn't know much about the Chinese culture. At that time her family was nice to me and they just enjoyed having a 国际友人 around. Now that we are married and my Chinese is better they treat me like everyone else of my generation in the family and they criticize me all the time. Somehow I like it better now because it means that I am part of the family not just some foolish 老外 who doesn't know anything and is used for entertainment.
#14 Brian Posted 12 May 2011 - 08:37 PM
Table manners aside, I think the only etiquette for eating is to get the food in your mouth. Doesn't really matter how you do it.
#15 skylee Posted 12 May 2011 - 09:10 PM
It's 国际 not 国籍.
#16 rezaf Posted 12 May 2011 - 09:12 PM
corrected the typo
#17 jbradfor Posted 12 May 2011 - 09:57 PM
Are you sure that's really true and your wife's not just saying that to make you do all the kitchen work? ;)
#18 rezaf Posted 12 May 2011 - 10:33 PM
It's not just her. Her aunt once seriously explained to me that it's the Chinese custom that the husband should do the cooking and housework but it's really interesting that they have serious problems with the wife of my wife's cousin who doesn't cook at home. When she is not there they always talk behind her back and when I'm not there they talk behind my back although I cook and wash the dishes (but don't do the other stuff).
#19 Lu Posted 12 May 2011 - 10:37 PM
Looks like you're treated just like one of the family :-p
#20 anonymoose Posted 12 May 2011 - 10:38 PM
So what do they think of kashk-e-bademjan then?
#21 rezaf Posted 12 May 2011 - 10:51 PM
Under the pressure I cook but I only can cook Chinese food. Anyway I have took them to Iranian, Lebanese, Turkish, Spanish, Mexican,Italian ,... restaurants in Dubai and they always complain how the foreign food is disgusting from the beginning to the end.
In Iran the word for the husband that I have become is much stronger than 妻管严。 <_<
#22 gato Posted12 May 2011 - 11:42 PM
It's called "whipped". There's also a more naughty version of that.
#23 rezaf Posted 12 May 2011 - 11:55 PM
Anyway is it really true that the Shanghainese men are whipped or is it just waidiren making jokes about them? Personally I have seen quite a few but I don't know many Shanghainese men to judge.
#24 XuAshe Posted13 May 2011 - 01:08 AM
Thanks for all the responses so far! ^_^
I am going to start learning Mandarin in the fall formally, and I might see if I can start and get some lessons from one of the people that were witnesses at our wedding. This same man suggested that my husband give me a sort of shortened version of my name. I kept my last name for the time being so he suggested: Ha AiLi or something of this fashion.
As for my chopsticks, my husband always scolds me when I point with them, so I am learning not to do that. As for everything else, I watch all the Chinese people I work with when they eat.
Ah and my husband wants us to have a small wedding ceremony for his parents while we are in China; how much different are Chinese weddings from Western ones?
Is there anything else I should know?
#25 rezaf Posted 13 May 2011 - 10:25 AM
Chinese weddings in big cities are usually very boring big dinner parties in big hotels. The only special thing about them is that the bride and groom should change their clothes three or four times during the ceremony. The good thing about them is that people who come should bring money in red envelopes but the bad thing about them is that you should give the money back to them when they or their children get married.
#26 skylee Posted 13 May 2011 - 11:39 AM
Aren't these the same as/similar to weddings in other places? It is simply giving gifts (money or other gifts) to the wedding couple. Or perhaps in some other countries people don't give gifts to the newly weds when they go to a wedding banquet?
#27 anonymoose Posted 13 May 2011 - 12:05 PM
You give a gift if you attend their wedding, but it's not necessary when they drop a sprog. And many people these day pop sprogs out without being married.
#28 rezaf Posted 13 May 2011 - 01:32 PM
In my country it's mostly gifts or jewlery for the bride but they seldom give money. Personally I prefer the money because it can be directly used for the costs of the wedding.
#29 zhongwei Posted13 May 2011 - 02:16 PM
hehe, yes, you are so chinese, you know 妻管严, but it should be 妻管严，the "严" is not so widely used. do you know exactly its meaning?
#30 xianhua Posted 13 May 2011 - 03:48 PM
The difference being that, in my experience, a book is kept of everyone who has paid and the amount, and as rezaf mentioned, it will be expected back in the future. The problem comes when you emigrate and then have to keep asking your in-laws to pay for various weddings of people they have never met. :P
#31 xiaocai Posted 13 May 2011 - 05:09 PM
I think it is okay to use traditional Chinese here, no? And I guess he, as someone who's married a Shanghainese wife, knows what it means quite well.
#32 jbradfor Posted 13 May 2011 - 09:52 PM
Has there ever been such a thing in the history of China? :P
Ask you husband what he has in mind. While it is true that the "classic" Chinese wedding is a huge banquet (huge both in number of guests and in the amount of food served -- 10+ dishes is typical), there are variations. For example, a common tradition is to serve tea to your new in-laws as they welcome you to the family. [Common outside the mainland (e.g. in Hong Kong, overseas), not sure how common it is now in the mainland.]
Personally, unless your husband's family is poor, I would insist on a traditional Chinese banquet. You'll get to go shopping for some fancy new dresses, you'll get to attend a great banquet that traditionally should be paid for by the groom's parents (not sure how it's done now), and you'll get a load of cash. What's not to love? ;)
It's used quite widely outside the mainland. Keep in mind that this is an international group, and we know / discuss topics beyond the mainland.
#33 rezaf Posted 14 May 2011 - 01:21 AM
Don't think so. At least not in the big cities. In Shanghai normally people spend at least 100000 RMB for the ceremony. In the worst case scenario they can use the hongbaos to cover some part of the costs.
Speaking of the Chinese customs (I know that it's too late) but you could also ask for a betrothal gift which in Shanghai is normally around 100000~200000 RMB. B) and you should use some of it for buying new furniture.
I think it's so good for a girl to get married in China, especially to a Shanghainese man, as nearly all the customs are against the broom's family and nowadays after marriage girls don't even need to do the housework anymore.
#34 vecna Posted14 May 2011 - 11:20 AM
I'll chip in, based on some experience in studying Mandarin and being married to a speaker of it. Our sexes are reversed from your situation, but there are some insights worth passing along.
My in-laws were aghast that their daughter/sister was dating a foreigner. However, I bided my time, and after a few years and after she turned thirty still dating me, the resistance crumbled. For the non-favoring grandparents in your case, they face a fait accompli. They must accept this and get used to it. You can make it easier, with much of the advice elsewhere here already.
Thinking about picking up some Chinese between now and then.... Here's what I would do. In this excursion speaking with the in-laws is what matters. All the other stuff, like directions, immigration and custoims, and changing money, that's all stuff for your husband to worry about. For you, for these coming encounters, you need to make a list of points for communication. This includes two areas:
1. Vocabulary. For food, familial relationships, jobs, furniture, likes and dislikes. Also to describe your family and how you too met. Have your husband pick some pictures to bring, and practice discussing these.
2. Types of things to say: ways to show agreement, ways to praise clothes/hair/appearance/food/cooking/household good, ways to extend conversations (in English we say things like "what makes you say that?" or "so what you're saying is..."), ways to seek clarification ("so what you're saying is...", etc.), ways to keep people talking (always a good tack with in-laws), etc.
That sounds like a lot, but it will pay immense dividends when you visit. You will, after all, tend to cover the same subjects with everyone you talk to.
Looking back over this, I know it sounds like a very clinical, cerebral way to approach this, but it paid immense dividends in my experience. Winging it does not.
Something else comes to mind. Generally speaking, Chinese people like stability. Any anecdotes you share (or make up) about how you kept working at things through thick and thin (maybe in response to parental directives) to overcome adversity would also contribute to the impression you want.
Good luck and keep us posted!
#35 XuAshe Posted15 May 2011 - 02:46 AM
You guys are a great help so far!
His parents are completely fine with me, even though they haven't met me yet, haha.
His grandparents are the ones having trouble, but I should be okay. I am just hoping my Chinese is good enough that I don't have to cling to my husband the whole summer we're in China.
#36 jbradfor Posted 16 May 2011 - 10:29 AM
rezaf, thoughts on how clingy Shanghai wives are? :P XuAshe, if you do cling, maybe you'll just be going native.
rezaf，上海老婆粘人吗？ ：P XuAshe，粘人可能才是入乡随俗。
#37 rezaf Posted 16 May 2011 - 11:00 PM
Shanghainese women are not clingy but they can use their evil 撒娇 techniques to make their men cling to them. It takes ages to learn these techniques and I don't think that western girls can learn them easily. Anyway xuashe just be yourself and don't try to change yourself too much. In my experience the reason behind many intercultural marriages is that we don't really like someone of our own culture and are looking for something new, which might be the reason that your husband has married you not a Shanghainese girl and At the end it's his decision about you which is important not what his grandparents think. The problem with them can be easily solved by giving them some gifts as formality.
#38 anonymoose Posted 16 May 2011 - 11:09 PM
Learning Mandarin is a good start, but be prepared that commication with the grandparents might be difficult if they only speak Shanghainese.
#39 xiaocai Posted 17 May 2011 - 11:21 AM
What a shame. Mediterranean food is one of my favourite, and is incredibly difficult to find at my home town. I guess it is more appealing to people who prefer strong flavours, but most of those from Shanghai, especially the older generations are not in this group.
#40 rezaf Posted 17 May 2011 - 08:09 PM
My Father-in-law only likes very hot 山东菜 and 四川菜 because I think his father was originally from Shandong. It's not just the foreign food that he doesn't like, he doesn't like 上海菜 and 广东菜 either。When we are with him, he sometimes cooks for us because he can't bear what I cook. I also can't bear what he cooks because one drop of it is enough to give me a runny nose, but I have no choice but to finish it
Hopefully the OP won't have this problem as the original Shanghainese people usually don't cook very spicy food.
#41 XuAshe Posted17 May 2011 - 11:20 PM
My husband told me before the reason he didn't stay in China and marry his first girlfriend was because he doesn't like Chinese girls, he claims American girls are more independent and have opinions.
I can't cook anything really except Western food so my husband does a lot of the cooking or we eat out. He isn't a big fan of Western foods and is very picky.
A girl I work with is marrying into a Chinese family very soon and is taking cooking lessons in Chinese food, should I maybe, do the same?
#42 rezaf Posted 18 May 2011 - 06:55 AM
No and you shouldn't do the housework either.