Survival Guide: Visiting Your Significant Other's Family During Lunar New Year
STORY: Mandy Wong
22 January 2023
We just wound down from one festive season, and another is already fast upon us. If your girlfriend celebrates Chinese New Year, you may have finally warranted an invitation from her and her family - a sign generally taken that they’re at least taking you seriously, so you don’t want to mess this up! You probably already know to stay away from black or dark colours in your fashion choices, but still feel like you are far from prepared? Read on for tips to really nail that first CNY visit.
1. More gifts are better than less
It’s only polite to bring gifts when you’re visiting - you want to thank your hosts for opening their house for you to participate in such a gathering, after all! More often than not, bringing gifts will always be a welcome gesture and shows that you aren’t taking your invitation to this reunion for granted.
If you’re cash-strapped or have specifically been told not to bring any gifts, at the very least arm yourself with a pair of mandarin oranges.
2. Memorise the family tree
Nobody will expect you to be able to tell straight away which is her second uncle and how his wife looks like. If you’re seriously interested in being a part of the family though, they’d be doubly impressed if you made sure to educate yourself beforehand on who’s who.
Bonus tip: find out from your girlfriend beforehand how her family would expect you to address them. Some families might be happy for you to call them the way she does (often in their own dialect) and it makes you feel like part of the them already, whereas other families would prefer to save that until you’re officially inaugurated into the fold (i.e. after the wedding bells).
3. Actually want to know people
If you’re serious about this relationship, then joining this family is a matter of time. Be genuinely interested in getting to know these people who will eventually become your family members as well. People can always tell when you’re being humble and sincere, and that’d strike a good chord with anyone. Initiate conversations with people nearby, talk and play with the children, or join in the, ahem, games with monetary stakes when asked.
Everyone has an interesting story to tell and you never know if you might end up knowing more about them than even your girlfriend!
4. Be actively helpful
Being helpful at any gathering is almost a given for anyone with some form of manners. Want to turn that up a notch? Be active and deliberate about being helpful. Don’t just wait for people to start moving before you pitch in to help. When you see that people are done with their meals and you’re done with yours too, stand up and offer to take everyone’s dishes to the sink or trash bin. Offer to fetch people drinks if you’re heading into the kitchen. Start washing up your cutlery or utensils without waiting for someone to suggest it.
5. Find out the juice beforehand to avoid on-the-spot surprises
It’s a truth well known that every family has some form of drama or other. Find out about these from your girlfriend well before the reunion. It’s not about being kaypoh, but rather so you wouldn’t make a faux pas and touch on a raw nerve without even realising it.
On the flip side, while these may be topics to avoid with certain family members, if you play your cards well enough and gain enough of their trust that they begin opening up to you, this could well be a topic that brings you closer to the core of your prospective new family.
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