Foreigners who meet a Chinese partner while living in China will no doubt eventually find themselves visiting the family’s hometown for Chinese New Year. The traditions and customs can be a confusing, making it somewhat of a daunting prospect. Everyone’s experience will differ depending on where the family lives and their economic and social background, but if you’re making that fateful trip to the hometown for the first time this Chinese New Year, take these five tips into consideration.
Photo: Sharon McCutcheon
Before you go anywhere, the most important thing to do is to prepare your hongbao. These little red packets of New Year “lucky money” can determine whether the entire trip is a success or a disaster.
Traditionally, most Chinese adult children will prepare a hongbao to bring back to their parents at Chinese New Year. The hongbao is not some token gesture of appreciation, but in fact something that many parents count on to get them through the coming months. Furthermore, the size of a hongbao is a large source of pride among Chinese parents and they often compare between themselves as a way of judging how successful their children are. Even within families, siblings will often be compared based on the hongbao they gave.
In addition to the parents, married couples are also expected to give out smaller hongbao to unmarried members of the family, especially children. These may amount to just a couple of hundred yuan each, but in a big family they soon add up.
So, think carefully about hongbao before going to your partner’s hometown. Try to find out what the family expects, work out what you can afford and be mindful that whatever you give will become the benchmark that you'll be judged against in future years. Give as much as you can afford but don’t get too carried away!
This may sound somewhat backwards, but bear with me. Even back in your home country, speaking with the in-laws can be like walking a tightrope at times. You don’t want to accidentally offend anyone and you don’t want to drop your partner in trouble with some offhand comment. You never know what might come back to haunt you.
Now, imagine trying to walk that same tightrope, but you only have a relatively limited command of the language you’re speaking. Your vocabulary is probably incomplete, you likely don’t know the nuances between different words and you might not fully understand some of the questions you’re asked. On top of all this, your in-laws come from a completely different culture.
When talking to your partner’s family, you want to be able to fully understand what’s being said and be in control of what you’re saying. Any misunderstandings could damage relationships or cause issues that go on for years.
So, unless you’re very confident that you can speak Chinese fluently, it might be wise to pretend your Chinese is worse than it actually is. Greetings and polite set phrases are fine, but try to avoid in-depth conversations. This way you can shield yourself from saying something offensive, misleading or embarrassing.
Everyone knows Chinese people are not shy when it comes to talking about money. Be prepared, because your Chinese partner’s relatives may well ask how much you earn and expect a straight answer in cold, hard numbers.
You may feel the urge to be accommodating or show off what you’re earning, but be careful. A simple answer to a question about salary from a tipsy aunt at a dinner may have a long lasting impact in your life. The next thing you know, your partner might be asked why you only gave so much in your hongbao. Soon after, you might even start receiving messages from family members asking for financial help.
Although you might lose some face, downplaying your salary is arguably a smart move during a visit to the hometown at Chinese New Year. It will reduce expectations for hongbao in the future and lower the odds of getting approached by family members for loans or favors. What’s more, even a low expat salary will probably be considered relatively high in China.
It is, of course, possible to refuse to disclose your salary altogether. This, however, can sometimes fuel rumors within the family that might lead them to assume you earn a ridiculously high amount. In my experience, it’s better to take control of the conversation and downplay your salary from the start.
This is good advice for life in general, but it becomes critically important during visits to the hometown at Chinese New Year. Once the dinner is on the table, it’s not long before the baijiu appears.
Even if you think you can handle your rice wine, I can assure you that you can’t keep up with the locals. Not only that, your partner’s family members will be gunning to get you drunk and will likely pull out all the tricks in the book to make sure you end up under the table.
That’s all well and good if you want to have a bit of fun, but it may not be the wisest idea if you want to be in control of yourself and make a certain impression on the family. If so, politely insist that you cannot drink baijiu and offer to drink beer instead as a compromise. You may still get drunk, but it won’t be anywhere near as severe as it would have been.
If you’re really not down for drinking at all, you can technically cheers with tea. It won’t win you much respect from the drinkers in the family, but it’s still perfectly acceptable.
The list above may leave some readers more worried than before about a trip to their partner’s hometown at Chinese New Year, but don’t let it scare you too much. These are just some helpful tips to bear in mind during your visit, but the most important advice is to not obsess too much about what might happen and try to relax and enjoy the trip.
See it as an opportunity to explore another part of the country. Check out nearby tourist attractions and try the local food. If you happen to be in a small town or village where there isn’t a lot to do or see, go out and get some exercise, read a book or catch up with your correspondences. In such a fast paced country as China, it’s rare to get these moments of quiet.
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Keywords: partner’s hometown for Chinese New Year
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Thank God none of this applied to me when I met my wife's family for the first time. And what sort of person brags to other families about how much money their kids give them? Forget proud, relying on my kids for financial support is something I'd be too embarrassed to talk about with others. What pathetic people.
Feb 18, 2020 14:39 Report Abuse
6) prepare to be interrogated by all and sundry. 7) you will be invited out a lot and presented to the locals like an exotic pet. You will be expected to perform to give face to your partners family. expect people to have their phones recording your every step. 8) any dietary preferences you have will be ignored. 9) if you are a foreign man, you will be expected to drink - a lot. 9) you will unlikely be unable to relax at all.
Jan 19, 2020 01:46 Report Abuse