One last rant at you know who....
Before I dive into my next heavy and self important post that will have nothing to do with either sex or China Girl, a recent even has forced me to drop what I really want to do, and write about. I've again the sudden urge to once again let readers know, based on my experiences only, what absolutely must be done before all of you know it all yet unassuming laowai take the plunge with China Chick.
Yeah I get it; you’ve all read my post “that deserves no link” about what type of China Chick to marry. It’s my most popular post hands down. I’d like to think I gave some good advice there. For instance, never in a fucking million years marry an only child. (I indirectly pay for this mistake every day)
I’d like to think most of you pretty much agree with “The Jist” of what I’ve been trying to get across.
Though one thing I probably should’ve clarified is that these types of posts apply to young, single, never been married China Chicks. Not the divorced with one kid types. The jaded, more appreciative and less demanding Ladies of the Heavenly Kingdom.
I feel the urge, like a blinking red light going off in my head that won’t turn off to reiterate ONCE AGAIN the most important thing to ask China Chick, before she becomes China Wife. To my chagrin, some things can only be learned in hindsight. But not for you!
If you are a Westerner, the question is not an intuitive one.
The challenge is how to ask the question without sounding like a wimpy laowai?
“Honey, when your mom comes to our house to stay, will she bring her know it all ways with her? Her condescending attitudes? Her verbal insults? (In front of the children!) Will she bring her rude and belittling mindset? And, well….if she does…what will you do about it “?
In less polite terms, when Crazy China Mother in Law comes to stay and acts out of line, will China Wife tell her mom to shut the fuck up, mind her place or go back to Beautiful Blue Sky China?
When China Mother in Law chooses not to treat Laowai Son in Law as the father of her grandchildren, the husband of her daughter, but as yet another meek and mild servant of her domain, you need to know Boy….how is this gonna go down?
And you need to find out before any type of marriage ceremony takes place.
Let me first say if you don’t speak Mandarin you get a pass. Move along. Count your blessings you don’t. If you come back and say something like “I speak Mandarin and we get along beautifully, congratulations for having the foresight to marry a China Girl with 10 siblings….Pass….Move along.
Or you come from a very nice family and China Mother in Law from Hell isn’t so bad.
BUT IF YOU DID NOT have this foresight(me?) something will have to give. Because to my eternal chagrin My China Wife never says a thing to her mom. She simply says to me “ignore her”. And it’s my life with her at times nothing short of a living hell.
Why is that?
For obvious reasons, she knows her mother will not listen. But for less obvious reasons, China Wife will not “stick up” for beaten down Laowai Son in Law because China Wife tends to agree. Perhaps not with the method, but with the goal!
Don’t know about you, but when the only advice I can get from someone is “ignore her”, I feel like I’m back in 2nd grade.
Chinese culture has something to do with this no doubt.
For some reason, Chinese familial relationships depend very much on verbal abuse. Make no mistake, Feudalism is nothing more than the learned art of keeping one in one’s place. To some it’s a bit more severe and they liken it to emotional abuse. (funny I’d never heard this phrase until I was in my twenties)
I remember very clearly how a twenty something Chinese American I rented a room from many, many moons ago would tremble upon seeing her Cantonese grandmother come to visit. You see she loathed her grandmother. She loathed the negativity. Once I watched it all play out as under her withering criticism she was reduced to tears. A grown woman.
I had a friend in China that constantly surprised me with his what seemed to me unrehearsed utterings of ”I’m so stupid”, and “I have no talent”. While I found it amusing at first I later became somewhat alarmed because this same fellow wanted to be a Chinese diplomat. Yet his confidence was zero.
How to succeed?
Or was this simply polite (false) modesty? I don’t know. I only understood later the source of his angst was his wife, who constantly berated him. She insulted him so frequently his negativity became subconsciously internalized.
For some reason, I feel a lot of the older generation feel that insults are the key to establishing the filial line of authority. The glue that maintains harmony within society. Fuck that. Belittling me will not win you my respect, and I do not apologize for it. I sometimes bring this up to my wife and she will simply say something like, “you do not know older Chinese”.
….”Knowing Chinese”. If I only had a dime….
How much more do I need to know about China? When is enough enough? When can it simply be called “good enough”?
When can I get a pass?
One thing I’ve learned is that Chinese do not like a self confident child, or a self confident son in law. Because they fear that with self confidence the desire to learn stops. Rather, one must constantly be beaten into the ground, reminded of how “inadequate” he or she is. Only then will the concept of 听话 be internalized. Simply 听话 Dude and we will all get along. (The world will be a better place!)
A few days ago the China MIL matter of factly told me my 5000 sq foot house is “small”. As of now, therefore the official word is our 5000 sq foot house with the pool simply isn’t cutting it.
Immersed as I am within the local Chinese community, I am of course aware slowly but surely everyone named “Wang” or “Li” or “Zhu” or “Zhou” are all buying nicer houses. Newer dwellings. Bigger digs. As we in the West are all too aware, this is a slippery slope with ne’er a happy ending.
We in the West are all too familiar with “keeping up with the Jones’”. I’ve written of it before.
Never mind the Confucian precept of Modesty. Let alone the Christian ethic. (It is ironic these folks all go to church.) The hobby of happy and eager comparison with one another is all too well entrenched within the Chinese community I swim within.
My house is perrrfeecct. Fantastic location. Really can’t complain. Except I do. It’s a wee bit old. And requires constant upkeep. But it’s good enough for me. Yet the China Mother in Law from Hell still felt the need to insinuate “I’m now working hard enough”.
I need to up my game you see…and well, I just wasn’t having any of it.
“You don’t know what you are talking about”, I said matter of factly.
“Your house really is small”, answered the usually quiet Father in law.
Ignoring China FIL, I took aim for you know who.
“You’re ignorant”, I retorted.
Then I decided deliberate “in your face” arrogance was called for.
“My house is larger than 99% of all Americans”, I added.
(I need to say here I really don’t know if that’s true, but how could someone trying to defend his position merely get away with another number and expect “to win” a debate with these inlaws?” )
Than for added measure I added “我对牛弹琴。”
I just couldn’t help myself.
Silence filled the air. The Mother in Law felt my lack of modesty stifling. You see, I’ve learned long ago, the best defense isn’t always a head bowed down in recognition of your opponent’s comments, but a withering touch of pride with a bold lack of shame thrown in for good measure.
The conversation ended.
The best thing before marriage is to get a good feel for Mother of China Girl. She may be cool, it may work out. But if you speak Mandarin, this is the best time to put it to good use. Definitely speak with her, get to know her. Feel her out. If Future China Mother in Law tends to indiscriminately insult and look down upon her Future Laowai Son in Law ask yourself what will China Wife do? Will she tell her mom to pipe down, and act more respectful? This is important because you cannot make a habit of doing this yourself.
Or will she be allowed to continue with her roughshod ways? Because Mother in Law will base everything she says based off your title within a filial structure.
If you are willing to marry someone you are obviously deeply in love with her….right?
Why would China Mother in law even be a pain in the ass, you might wonder? It’s simple really. The more money you make, the higher her approval of you. With China MIL it is all about Social Class.
It’s a business contract. (Love will fade away you see)
How respectable is your Family? What are your parents’ jobs? How big is your house(there we go again)
These are questions all cultures tend to similarly ask, albeit not as directly. Remember, if your fiancée has 12 brothers and sisters, it may be less of an issue. If she is an only child, though, watch out! I strongly recommend with all the urgency I can bring to bear to get “to know” The Crazy Woman, before anything you can’t easily stop(wedding preparations?) creates a life all its own.
Enough with Her. Though your Crazy China MIL may not be to your liking, the key here really is how will your China Girl will react? You will be most unhappy at China Wife’s unwillingness to teach or advise her parents how to handle themselves in a civil way. I know I am.
If China Girl is brave enough and says “nothing, she’s my mom and you’ll have to just put up with it,” my advice to you Pilgrim is simple:
Dump China Girl.
"You're crazy", you say?
Let me be clear: If China Girl(the one all stir crazy over you), doesn't have your back with China MIL, before marriage, do you think she will afterwards? Laowai's biggest mistake is to ignore the influence Crazy China MIL has over China Girl.
This is the time to remind yourself how plentiful the sea is with fish, and face what any objective outsider can see: this situation will only get worse over time, with every pratfall and stumble you make.
Lose your job? Get ready for it.
The car you buy not to her liking? Better have a good story.
Does your wife inevitably get a job herself?
“Why is my daughter so 辛苦？(imagine trying to use this line with a Chinese husband!)
“Why you only have girls no boys?” Ditto. (It’s even worse if you belatedly find out you cannot have children. Inlaws will immediately want the China love of your life to drop you like a hot potato. )
With each complaint, it is nothing more than a veiled insult aimed towards you. You see, you simply aren’t good enough. Your house isn’t big enough, and you WILL NEVER make enough money to keep her in all the FACE she needs. (I guarantee it)
I admit to using a broad stroke here, but in my view China MIL at the most basic level simply does not feel the need to treat Laowai SIL on an equal level. There is zero need to have 素质 in her relations with him. Indeed, this never even enters her mind. It is times like these, when I sincerely wish I did not speak Chinese. Having to deal with a China Mother in law that has no constraints placed upon her by societal norms really puts a crimp in my day, er life. And if you have a China Wife that sees no obligation to act as an intermediary than the happiness of any family setting becomes quickly diluted.
This latest sojourn the Inlaws have spent with us is no exception. Except as my children grow older I become worried that they themselves will pick up this learned behavior and they themselves apply it in their own daily lives.
All I can say is I go out of my way to use her behavior as a teaching point to my children.
“Dad, why does grandma burp in public?”
“Why does grandma not say excuse me?”
“Why does grandma push through the line?”
I love it.
I understand I cannot change her. I do not try.
Yet I must admit it bothers me to no end at the unwillingness of China Wife to give a damn. What is more remarkable is that China Wife sometimes gets fed up as well. And still nothing is said, nothing is done to rein her in.
I have never in my life lived with someone that looks down upon me, much less is condescending to me. The challenge we all must face is to ensure we are surrounded by positive people. I’ve dumped countless women at nothing more than a hint of disrespect. (They obviously didn’t understand what they’d done wrong when they complain “I don’t call them anymore”)
Yet it is very hard to be positive in anyway when China Mother in Law is in town.
And you have to make it work.
I must admit after all this time it still takes getting used to. I understand that many Chinese think the Laowai and China Girl are not fit, and airily explain away the great failure of so many marriages with an over simplified wave of the hand….
“He’s a foreigner”.
So my advice to all of you is there are two reasons an only child is a disaster. Growing up alone, the “apple in the eye” of too many people. I get it. The other reason is more overlooked, though. We tend to forget as a result of having only one child, that China Parents thus have no one to live with. Which means when marrying a single child you are also wading into the unwritten portion of the contract(which runs many, many pages and is in invisible ink) ie marrying the mom and dad as well.
This part of the contract has been the hardest to swallow.
At first I thought it was my fault. I’m not culturally sensitive enough. Us laowai need to take the high road. I will learn to be a better person.
I find many examples all around me in our community of Chinese families, where their own parents（or inlaws）have moved out and are living separately from their kids. Half of America’s retirement housing is full of them.
Once I realized this I stopped feeling guilty for not taking all the crap I’ve taken lying down. It made me feel all that much better to realize that other Chinese also have the same “in law problem” that I have.
So I soldier on. As long as I think I’m not as inadequate as the inlaws try to think I am, I think I’ll be ok. Just fine, actually.