The Inlaws Return

Their arrival is imminent.

Hours away.

I had thought this moment wouldn’t be presenting itself quite frankly ever again.
Instead, in 5 hours’ time, I will be off to the airport to pick my in-laws up, and bring them back.   Midnight arrival, in the middle of a forecasted rainstorm.(oh the irony)

My father in law is 76 years old, and quite frankly too exhausted to travel this far.  My MnL is approaching 70.  I’ve written about them many times.   I’ve compared them to my parents.(my mom, nearly 66, sent me  a few days ago yet another photo of herself in a string bikini….my wife 
doesn’t wear string bikinis….or bikini’s)

My wife has told me they will stay for only 3 months, and I of course, will try and be in China as much as possible during that time.   My wife and daughters will be coming back the day after, having spent 5 weeks in Hangzhou.

I had thought, after the disaster last summer, that my in-laws would seriously never be coming back.   Last summer didn’t go so well.

Last summer we all went on a lengthy family vacation to Florida.  We took a cruise, did Orlando for the 3rd and I pray to God last time, and Key West.    Weighed down I admit by the stress of having my own business, and still perhaps a bit jetlagged from my recent return from Shenzhen, I found myself finally snapping at my wife’s constant nagging at me in her loud screechy voice.   It’s not her fault she has such a voice, but surely she can control her nagging.   I finally snapped at her in the lobby of our hotel, in front of her mother.   In Mandarin of course.   

As a grown man, I feel I should have a sense of self control.  I do.   That doesn’t preclude me the right to tell my wife to shut the fuck up once in awhile though.   (nor of course as the female readers will think to themselves, vice versa)

Later that day I destroyed the back of our minivan.  The first accident I’ve ever had in my life. I’m the only person in the History of Mankind to back out and hit a trash truck(without seeing it of course) that had blocked my path, having parked in back of me after I had already parked my car at a rest stop.

(The cruise was great though!)

So in-laws being in-laws, of course I had a rough go of it.   The usual “look at his family background, of course he’s the way he is”, was the usual comment I heard throughout the Summer.

I rarely have an argument with my Father in Law, and that’s true.   I’ve been married 21 years and maybe had only two or three.   And he’s taught me some rather obvious life lessons as well.(watch how you address people in front of your kids)

The Curse of speaking Chinese is a simple one:  sometimes us Laowai hear things we don’t want to hear.   There is no blissful ignorance.   I smile when I hear the few Laowai out there that claim with a straight face to “get along fabulously” with their in-laws.

These laowai are either filthy rich, newlyweds, or don’t speak a lick of Chinese.  Or you married a peasant.

No, we are fully aware of what our in-laws think of us.

The mother in law…well, she is who she is, and I solve all problems with her by simply retreating to my office in the basement and working.  Ignoring her is simply put the best medicine.   I put my 5000 sq feet to very good use.

I feel I need to tell everyone about the one time my Father in Law and I did have a blowup.  It was last summer, and it was at Home Depot.  This is a hardware chain store quiet popular in the States’.  Akin to a  Walmart.

My wife and I during our time in Seattle had bought a sofa at Ikea many years ago, and now over the years a piece of wood needed to be replaced.  I love this sofa, and very much wanted to fix it.  My FnL, as such the retired engineer, finally had something to do.   It’s always one of my goals when I’m back in the States to ensure my FnL has plenty to do.  

My FnL is very mechanical by nature.   He is absolutely devoid of any personality.  The complete opposite of his wife.  Yet he rarely complains about anything.  He does all the cooking and cleaning.  Drinks his Longjing Cha all day, walks a lot and will live to be 120.  Simple as that.
My wife takes after him, from a “mechanical” point of view.  That is, she’s able to fix and assemble things rather quickly.  I’m the utter opposite.  While I can buy something and get it right during assembly the 2nd time around, she can do it right the first time.     She will quite often call me “useless” as a result.  (only somewhat tongue in cheek….she’s right….I can assy a lightbulb and help make babies, and that’s abt it)

So the two of us went to our local Home Depot and looked at buying a piece of wood.  We had a measuring tape.   We finally decided upon a piece of wood that would fit our needs.  However, the FnL was not himself that satisfied, and decided to lay it down on the floor of the store to further analyze and measure the damn thing.   Well….of course this was awkward, as HD can be a busy place and by default we were blocking the aisle.  People were having to walk around or over us.  I could see the American customers giving me annoying looks.

I found the moment rather embarrassing and within moments a friendly sales assistant walked up, and motioned to us to take the wood off the floor and over to a proper measuring place.  I grabbed the wood off the floor and instantly infuriated the FnL.   I explained to him we couldn’t just sit here on the floor measuring this, that we already knew what the length was, and we should take it somewhere else.

The FnL was oblivious to the number of people walking around us.  He simply didn’t realize that what maybe was acceptable in China couldn’t be done here.

I’ve always found it amusing how picky Chinese shoppers are.  Even when China was poor, and selection wasn’t even 1/100th of what it is today, the Chinese were finicky shoppers.  In particular my MnL.   

(I still recall in Guangzhou in 1990 when a young lady was withdrawing American currency from the local Chinese bank, how she would look at every$100 bill, and sometimes even want to exchange what she had received already from the bank, with a newer one.    Always the worry of being cheated in the back of their minds…even from the Bank.)

Finally, really feeling embarrassed, I snatched up the board and took it over to another place where we could stand up and have it measured.  At once my FnL snapped at me, and said something, and with the look of a five year old, marched off.  He was really pissed.    He was so angry he actually walked back to our house, in the stifling heat, rather than have me drive him home.  I didn’t even know he had gone home, as I searched in HD for several minutes for him.

Well, I’m not a boy of 23 anymore, and my FnL really made a mistake dressing me down.    I’m still amazed at how Chinese in-laws think they can talk to their son in laws.  The attitude of the in-laws can really be condescending.   It’s bad enough I’m nothing but a mere guest in my own house(they do allow me the privilege of sleeping in the same bed as my wife, though, and I thank them for that!)

Now…I will say here I did have an epiphany awhile back:  I understand that I will without question be a Terror in the lives of my daughters’ boyfriends.   I will be the best teacher of Men my daughters have ever had.   They will know more about the nature of boys then the boys know themselves.  But at the end of the Day, once they are married, I will need to respect them as a couple, and of course my future son in laws will be very welcome in my home, and unless there is physical abuse or something drastic, I will keep my distance. 

So once I realized this, I became a lot more gentler towards my in-laws.  My daughter is their only child.  She’s all they got.   She’s well on her way to becoming a real estate millionaire, as their apt is already in her name. 

The problem is as old as Time:  Some Chinese in-laws treat their son in laws as if they don’t exist.  I’m a 2nd class citizen.  And a Laowai to boot.

The root of the problem is twofold:  Culture of course, but also the reality that I do not show one ounce of docility towards my in-laws.   Not disrespect….docility.

And my wife has a problem with this.

It bothers me so, that my in-laws look down upon my family background.  My family arrived from Germany to America around 1760.   There’s a strong possibility one of my ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War, which would be cool.   I can trace my family all the way to 1729.

Yet despite the length of time my family has been in America, they’ve recently been underachievers to say the least.   So as strange as it may sound, I do not disagree with my in-laws when they so brazenly disparage my family.  They are right.   But to disparage my family is inherently something only I can do.  Not them.   And they do not seem to understand that.  

Would they disparage my family if it were rich?  Nope.

Once I drove back home, I found my father in law there.  I had the wood in my hand, and once I walked in he immediately started yelling at me.   I tried to explain, but he wouldn’t have any of it.  

Quite frankly, my FnL was out of line.  This behavior of his was also out of character.   Finally,  I told him something along the lines “ Say what you wish, what you did was immature, and I’m a grown man and not a child, and you will not be haranguing me this way,  and you need to grow up a bit.”

The FnL wrapped things up by threatening to call the police.(!?)   

(I responded by taking the wood downstairs and fixing my beloved Ikea sofa.  All by my damn self.   I’m sure he was waiting for me to call him for help.  And I’m positive he snuck down in the basement to take a look early the next morning.)

Now….let me remind you this Man is 76 years old.  He’s actually the same age as my Dad.  I’m rather confident my Father wouldn’t be acting this way toward me, in tone or use of words.

Now, the Chinese readers that I have, once you use the google translate function that I see you typically use when you read my articles, will probably drop your jaws at my saying the above to my FnL.  My line of reasoning has always been it’s about respect, and equality.  Simple as that.   You can live in my house(which is by extension yours) as long as you like, but there does need to be a sense of decorum involved.

My problem is my wife doesn’t agree.  Nor would many of the Chinese.   There’s a fine line between acting submissively and being trampled upon, and I find my Inlaws quite often like to blur them. 

She has never once corrected her parents’ attitude, nor does she intend to.   Her mom and dad both need a lesson in cultural sensitivity and the wife refuses to teach it.  

She tells me to “ignore them”, which is what I do.   Of course it's a lot easier if the Woman of the House would just  "say something".   (But after 23 years, I should probably just give up.)  Yet the tension is still there because my wife refuses to address it.   I find it unimaginable I would have such issues with “normal, American in-laws”…..?  And sometimes I admit I find myself daydreaming a time or two about just that.

So why, despite the disaster from last year, are my in-laws on their way over?

I found my wife a job.

After the birth of our 2nd child, it really made no sense for my wife to work.  Our youngest daughter is now 8, and after years of stop and go attempts on my wife’s part to do “something”, the perfect opportunity came along and she will start her job shortly after her return.

The stress of working has induced her parents, in short, to come back to America.

I know a lot of our Western readers will think this a silly thing.  After all, I can cook(well, mind you), just fine.   But I’m not Chinese, and I’m often gone, and by God my wife in America wants 
Chinese food!

So now they are on the plane crossing into North America as I write this.    Of course my family thinks my wife is soft.  (another post)

So I have chores to get done.   I will stop here.  Guests are abt to arrive.   Gotta keep the in-laws happy.


  1. Interesting read. Recognizing quite a few things.

    One difference: My in-laws act quite opposite behind my back afaik. My wife often bitches over them praising me too often, and her too little. And to be frank, I don't deserve it, but my wife probably do. I never had a run-in with my in-laws.


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