When a (Chinese) boyfriend meets the parents

When my husband and I made the move to China in April 2014, we’d been dating for less than a year. Sadly that means that R hasn’t yet spent as much time with my family as I’d like. We decided to spend Christmas Day 2013 just the two of us, as I live in another city from the rest of my family (in a blog post to come), so we spent just the 27th with my family instead. We also had a lovely Easter weekend 2014 with my family and a couple of other visits and meals.

I’m pretty close to both my mum and dad, as well as my older sister, and can talk to them openly about anything really. My sister has been with her husband for over 7 years, so he is very much a part of the family. My parents call him “The Lovely S” and during their engagement and since their wedding my mum has just gushed about how wonderful it is he’s joined the family. I really hope that as time passes, R becomes one of us in the same way, and my family can learn to appreciate the things I love about him too!

Getting to know the family

Getting to know the family

One of the things that R did have to get to grips with on the few occasions we spent with my family was greetings. Every country is different and Chinese families don’t tend to have much physical contact, so R very rarely embraces his parents. In my family on the other hand (I don’t want to generalise to all British as I know each family is different) we greet each other with big smiles, big hugs and big kisses!

My mum particularly loves a good hug and even on first meeting someone, she will very happily embrace them with some sort of air-kissing too. However, with her close family she likes to extend this to full on face kissing, sometimes even going for the lips. This includes me and my sister, and now also her two sons-in-law. Having heard about R for a few months, by the first time they met she felt she knew him and as expected went right for a big hug and a kiss.

Having witnessed this with my brother-in-law, I had luckily pre-warned R that my mum was very friendly and to just go with it. I had also warned my mum that Chinese people are a little more conservative and don’t often embrace their relatives, but obviously this fell on deaf ears. Fortunately, my dad is more traditional and settles for a good handshake 🙂

In fact, I don’t think my mum cares much for cultural differences or even likes to acknowledge that R is from a different country. She honestly asks him all the same questions she has of any friend of mine (i.e. a lot). I think her view is that we’re all human and there is no difference that needs to be acknowledged. She says “smiling is the universal language”. That will go for when she meets my new in-laws too, she will go straight to greet them with hugs, no matter how much I tell her they won’t be accustomed to that. I really can’t wait for that day, there will certainly be a lot of laughing (and hugging)!

8 thoughts on “When a (Chinese) boyfriend meets the parents

  1. Spanish people are also very “touchy”. When my dad came to Suzhou in May my boyfriend had to warn his mum that my father would kiss her cheeks! She blushed and everything but she was prepared, hahaha.


  2. My parents first met my wife (back then girlfriend) whwn we were renovating our first apartment, about four months after we started dating. It was a prrtty uneventful happening.
    However the following christmas we celebrated together with my family in Germany 🙂


  3. We are all just people, but I think sometimes it’s important to acknowledge differences in certain situations. I tend not to hug Chinese friends and family because they seem uncomfortable about it.

    Speaking of physical contact and cultural differences, my husband learned a lot when we first went to the US. Our first week Stateside, we stayed with my Hungarian friend and her family. They greet with a double cheek kiss. Naturally, my husband began to think this was standard American etiquette so when he met my family he didn’t go for a hug or handshake. . . he gave the double cheek kiss! Awkward! My cousin turned to me and asked, “Is this how they do things in China?” I replied, “No, it’s how they do it in Hungary!”


    • Yeah, every time I have gone to hug a Chinese friend for the first time it has been really awkward, and I tend not to now. It’s funny, when I lived in Germany I got really awkward using handshakes in a social setting, so I can see how they may feel about the hugging.

      Ah, that’s a great story, good for him for being a quick learner and embracing it (even if it wasn’t quite right…)!


  4. Nice post about your experiences! My family in the US also likes to hug and even sometimes give one kiss on the cheek (my grandma often does that); it did take some getting used to for my husband but he now is all in “hugging mode” whenever he’s around my family. Likewise, when I’m in China I don’t touch or hug family b/c that’s not the custom (though I did make an exception when grandpa died…I hugged grandma because, well, it was such a terrible thing and I wanted to physically express my support).


  5. Italians tend to be on the “touchy” side as well.. I think at first my boyfriend was quite uncomfortable especially with my public display of affection, but he eventually got used to that and now enjoys it quite a lot 😉


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