I never intended to fill my blog with content about Mr. Panda’s parents’ quirks. But the more I think about what to write about, the more I realize how well functioning our relationship is, and that most of the things which drove me crazy so many times in the past seven years were about his parents. I try to avoid the topic, but it haunts me all the time. At last, just as Timo from Crazy Chinese Family suggested, I will finally complete my third part of my “Living together with my Chinese almost-in-laws Trilogy”.
I tried to come up with my own little survival guide on how I survived my living together with my Chinese boyfriend’s parents for more than five years, and I hope it will help anyone who will face the same or a similar situation at some point of his life.
First of all I would like to say that I am considering myself happy that I have a very good relationship with Mr. Panda’s parents. I sometimes even get the feeling that they like me even more than him as they always wanted to have a daughter, but got two sons. Although our relationship was tough in the beginning, we even became good friends in the end.
After already summarizing the advantages and disadvantages of living together with my evitable Chinese future in-laws, I would like to provide you a few tips on how I survived when I ended up living together with them for a long… long time.
- Try to get your Chinese (future) in-laws to like you
Living together with someone you like, and who likes you, is much easier than living together with people you don’t like. Although they can still be annoying as hell, it helps to know that they are good people and that you somehow still like them even when they make you livid.
For some this undertaking might look impossible, and stories about devilish in-laws flying around online don’t make it any better. In impossible looking situations, for example when they do not like you just because their son likes you, it might work with respect, helping them and being super-duper nice. If it does not work, try to fake it. Or even better: try to move out as soon as possible. (And get revenge with insulating their precious son from them!)
- Ask them to teach you something about their own culture
Mr. Panda’s mom (who I call mom because I can’t pronounce her name correctly) is always very happy when I ask her to teach me something about Chinese culture or ask her to teach me how to cook traditional Chinese dishes. She is happy and really appreciates it that I try to preserve Chinese culture at home, because her sons do not care at all. Although she sometimes struggles with German such as to explain everything to me correctly, she is really glad that I try so hard and be patient with her (most of the time).
- If something is troubling them, offer them a helping hand
Helping someone in need is always a good idea. As I don’t speak Cantonese, I can’t help them as much as their sons can, but I try my best with what I can do. I organize appointments if they need one, I handle all their matters of insurance, and I always help them to prepare for doctor’s appointments and practice necessary vocabulary with Mr. Panda’s mom. If something needs to be repaired around their apartment, I look for a fitting company and arrange everything necessary. You could say I am a free of charge overqualified secretary. And I am glad they really appreciate it. The only thing that annoys me is that they think it is so easy for me just because “You speaking German!”.
- Speak up if something troubles you, but in a nice and respectful way
Sometimes you will face situations which will annoy you and will almost drive you crazy. If the problem does not dissolve by itself, try to find a nice way to tell them. I for example did not want for Mr. Panda’s mom to do my laundry. I asked her a few times to stop, but she still went on and on, until she ruined my woolen cardigan. When I confronted her, she tried to make it look like it was my fault that she didn’t wash it correctly, but I once and for all told her that I seriously did not want her help with it. It might have come over really angry (she ruined my super soft cardigan), that was probably the reason why she did not talk with me for a few days. But she cooled down soon again, and in the end she never touched my laundry again.
- If you cannot find a nice way to tell them what troubles you, ask your partner to say it for you
Sometimes I was confronted with situations which I could not solve in a nice or respectful way. I then always ask Mr. Panda to talk to them and tell them that I am too scared of bad feelings if I talk about it myself. I am a bit sorry that he sometimes had to bear the brunt, but I would also talk with my parents for him if something troubled him. (That will most probably never happen, my parents are super nice.)
That said, I would like to provide another example. One time in early summer when his mom was in Hong Kong to visit the family, we only lived together with his dad for almost a month. The weather was already quite warm, and Mr. Panda’s dad did not see any advantages in changing his clothes frequently, (and he still does not even now, but anyway). After a week of wearing the same pants and T-Shirt straight, day- and nighttime, he started to smell. How do you tell a person in a respectful way that he stinks? I thought for some time, and then decided to tell him that it was ok for me to wash his clothes while his wife was away. He waved aside and told me it was ok, he would not change his clothes a lot anyway.
I complained to Mr. Panda to ask him to go talk with him. I asked him to be as gentle as possible, but he just told him bluntly “You stink!”. It was not like I intended to do, but it solved me from my misery, and I was not the villain in this play. The next day, his dad washed his clothes by himself. (And ‘ironed’ them between his two mattresses, but that is another story.)
- Use the language barrier as an excuse if you need some resting time
Sometimes when I was fed up with the whole situation of living together with so many (non-German speaking) people in a small apartment, I was glad that I could not speak Cantonese many times. Even now, I sometimes shut down my brain when eating together with them, but just need some “time off from my Chinese family”. If any topic of interest for me comes up, someone will tell me afterwards anyway. I also sometimes ended conversations and told them I was too tried to try to speak to them when I needed some space or just faked that I did not understand them.
Unfortunately this only works when you do not speak their language and they are not perfectly fluent in one you are able to speak. And while it might also be complicated and frustrating to communicate sometimes, it is, in my opinion, better this way. If you have anything important to tell, you can do so anyway through their sons, but it is better to have a way out if you actually cannot go out.
- Fight for your privacy
If you are almost never alone at home it is necessary to build at least a little space where you can be alone. For us it was his room. Make it plain to his parents that they must not enter your room until you allow them to – at least when you are inside. At first they knocked and entered the room in one go, and when I told them that was not ok, they said that they already knocked anyway. I started to lock the room, because they would not stop with their habit. They were angry at first, but I explained to them that I needed my space and that it was ok for them to enter if they waited for my “It’s ok to come in.” anyway. It took them some time to train them, but eventually they learned how and when they could enter.
Still I doubt that they got what I tried to say, because they still entered the room without any hesitation when I was not inside, but did not care if their son was alone at home. Sometimes they just entered the room without knocking or asking while we skyped, and you could see they (maybe) felt guilty when I “caught” them ignoring my most important request.
- Find a place outside where you can relax for a few hours
If staying at home was too stressful for me, it was important to have a place outside where you could relax. As for me I am really glad for my friend who always always allowed to hang out at her apartment with her all the times I needed some space. I also spent a lot of time at the university, whether in the library, at classes or on my institute’s couch.
- Find a person who is experiencing the same misery like you and rant together as much as you can
It already helps when you can complain to a person who listens patiently, but it helps even more when you have a person who experiences the same situation as you. In my case it is Mr. Panda’s brother’s girlfriend. Although she never lived with them, she was forced to spend lots of time with them, whether with the two children or when the parents called the brother. Although she did not experience their flaws 24/7, it was at least 3/5, which is more than any other person I know. We can share our stories together, and it helps when somebody does not think that I am exaggerating when I tell her my stories.
- Learn how not to care too much
Last but not least, the most important thing is not to care too much. They offend you on purpose or unintentionally? Do not care too much. (Second will happen more often than you think.) They forget everything you tell them, what you like, what you do not like? Do not care too much. They do not listen to your advice and try to force their outdated old-fashioned views on you? Do not care about it either. They say something sexist or racist? Tell them it is not ok, but do not care too much, as you cannot change them and their way of thinking anymore anyway. About anything strange they say and do, just do not care at all. It will save you a lot of energy and it will spare you from unnecessary worries.
What annoys you the most about your partner’s parents and how do you deal with it?