Chinese relatives can be troublesome and gossipy
As Chinese New Year (CNY) – my least-favorite festival – is only seven weeks away, I’ve started to worry about the possible tortures that I will endure during the seven-day holiday: including slow express delivery service, hardto-buy train tickets, heavy traffic congestion and, most annoyingly, Chinese relatives.
Socializing with relatives is a compulsory course for every Chinese, especially those in smaller cities or rural areas where guanxi (special connections) culture remains a basic rule of survival. Different from Westerners who seldom have contact with their distant cousins or uncles, we Chinese are very close with even our most distant relatives.
There are at least two “types” of annoying Chinese relatives. The first type are those who ask you for help anytime and anywhere as a matter of course. From borrowing your money to asking you to do all sorts of daily tasks and errands for them, relatives of this type never see any inappropriateness in constantly bothering you.
Last year, one of my very distant uncles – whom I’d never met before – suddenly contacted me on my WeChat saying that he met some troubles while moving house. “Hey Lanlan, I heard that you work as a reporter in Shanghai, so I guess you know many government officials here, right?” he wrote. “Can you help me contact some officials to solve my problems?”
I was stunned. Dealing with this sort of issue is definitely beyond my ability, let alone the fact that I didn’t even know this man’s full name at that time. Feeling a bit put off, I wrote to him that I wasn’t able to help, but suggested he call the Shanghai public service hot line 12345 for a consultation. My socalled uncle didn’t reply and hasn’t been in touch since.
The other type of annoying Chinese relatives are the gossipers. Having no concept of privacy, relatives of this type are keen on discussing very personal family issues (such as whose daughter failed to pass a final examination, or whose wife suffers infertility, or whose cousin had an affair) with everyone else.
For these types, CNY is nothing more than a big gossip party. Every year, as a topic of their dinner conversations, I’m bombarded by their overly frank questions about my job, salary and relationships – including when I plan on finally getting married and having children.
Even though I’m quite reluctant to share with them these intimate and personal affairs, which are none of their business, I usually break down and answer most of their questions just to satisfy their curiosities and quell their gossip. A Chinese myself, tolerating gossipy relatives is not that difficult for me. But it can be extremely hard for foreigners, who care a lot about privacy. Singaporean website AsiaOne published an article in January of 2017 in which the author, Joanne Poh, mentioned “five awkward money questions relatives might ask at CNY.” 1) “How much do you earn?” 2) “Why aren’t you doing as well as Cousin X?” 3) “Your job can earn money meh?” 4) “Why have you still not bought a house/car?” 5) “Can I borrow money from you?”
Unlike most Westerners who live relatively independently, Chinese families are notorious for having little personal space. I do appreciate some rules that traditional Chinese culture have taught me, such as that relatives should care for and help each other, but in actual life, many relatives step over our personal boundaries.
A healthy, long-lasting interpersonal family relationship should be built on the basis of mutual understanding and respect. Having a big family with many relatives is a good thing in our collectivism-advocating society. Nonetheless, I would rather my relatives leave me alone if they are little more than troublemakers or gossipers.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.