in Perspective

6 Tips For Meeting and Impressing the (Chinese) Parents

Are you about to meet the Chinese parents? Are you worried about how to make a good impression?

If so, never fear, the basic cheat sheet of how to woo Chinese parents is here!

I initially threw this together for my non-Chinese significant other as I have very traditional Chinese parents and noticed that friends of mine were in the same boat, so I thought I would share. Hopefully it’s helpful! 

1. Never Stop Pouring Tea

Chinese tea is usually drunk out of tiny teacups. As a sign of respect, you should park yourself near the teapot (or just grab it) and keep everyone’s – ESPECIALLY the parents’ – teacups full at ALL times. There should never be an (god forbid) empty teacup for longer than 3 seconds.

I don’t care if you’re trying to expound on your five-year plan under one parent’s intense, skeptical scrutiny. If the other parent’s teacup is almost empty or completely empty, use your peripheral vision to reach for the teapot and fill ‘er up.

Anticipate. Keep an eye on all the teacups on the table at all times.

Pro tip: Once you’ve poured tea, remember to hover. The parent may immediately drink all the tea you just poured and put down an empty teacup. You need to hover and refill so you’ll always withdraw with your task accomplished.

2. Offer Them The Best Food

No matter if you’re at a restaurant or at their home, always offer the best bits of food to the parents. What do I mean by offer? There are several ways:

  • Turn the lazy susan so that the steaming hot dish is in front of the parents
  • Pick up the plate and hold it deferentially in front of the parents
  • Pick up delicious tasty food with clean chopsticks (either an extra one or turn your chopsticks upside down) and hold it out to them or just drop it on their plates.

Each offer must be accompanied by a respectful gesture and phrase to please, eat first.

How do you know which offering method to employ? Honestly, it depends on the circumstance, but think of this as an escalation scale. Start with number one, and go from there.

3. Eat Everything

For the love of all that is good and right in the world, NEVER refuse to eat anything, ESPECIALLY if it’s “weird” to you.

If you refuse to eat it, you’re conveying something like ‘I hate your cooking AND your entire culture’s food. And I’m probably going to be close-minded about everything else Chinese too.’

You can see how this is a bad, bad path to go down. Just put it in your mouth, chew and smile. Eating something that the parents know non-Chinese usually wouldn’t eat gains you mucho points.

Pro tip: Ask for more regardless of how full you are or if you actually want any.

4. Give Thoughtful Gifts

You’re going over to someone’s home, or they’re paying for your meal. Either way, you need to reciprocate to show you’re not taking their fine hospitality for granted. You’re a good, grateful, thoughtful recipient who listens to what they say.

When I say thoughtful gifts, I don’t mean you can’t get flowers and chocolate – just try and also think beyond them. For example, did your significant other mention the father has cough? Include some cough drops from your local area (which they can’t get where they reside) along with the flowers, which are his/her mother’s favorite!

Or another example: During the meal, did one of the parents mention a love for dark chocolate? If you’re staying for longer than a night, go ‘run an errand’ and buy them some dark chocolate. Or send them some afterwards.

5. Pay For A Meal

Staying over at the parents’ for a long period of time? Then besides giving a gift, you should pay for a meal to show you’re not taking the hospitality for granted and are very grateful. If you can’t afford a meal, no sweat. Grab the bill for afternoon coffee or tea or snack…whatever. It’s the gesture that counts.

While you can offer to treat the parents ahead of time, the most Chinese way to go about it is stealthily. You can:

  • Discreetly inform your server ahead of time that you’re going to pay and to please bring the bill to you.
  • Go on a ‘bathroom break’ after all the dishes have arrived to pay the bill.
  • Slip the server your credit card ahead of time.

Tell your significant other what you’re up to so s/he can help distract or persuade the parents if they protest, because they will protest. And sometimes mightily, even physically protest. Hold firm. They’re supposed to do that, and you’re never supposed to give in.

6. No Physical Contact

This should be obvious, but just in case, exnay on the physical contact unless you are 100% sure you’re out of eyesight. Even handholding is a no-no. Obviously this depends on how strict the Chinese parents you’re meeting are, but why take any chances?

Please note this extends to being alone in the same room. That is, you must NEVER be alone in the same room. The door stays open. Wide open.

You want to converse privately? Whip out your phones and text each other. Or run an errand together, like buying something or doing a favor for his/her parents.

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I know there are many, many more tips that could be included in this list, but in order to not overwhelm the novice, I stuck with what I think are the most important six tips for my parents.

Hopefully this list helps you. And if you forget everything, keep in mind what all the tips have in common – anticipation. Always anticipate what the parents would like to eat, drink, think, see and do. You’re wooing here; it’s all about them and nothing about you.

Good luck. Godspeed. And please report back on how it went.

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Important disclaimer: If you still somehow screw up and become persona non grata for all visits thereafter, I’m absolved of all responsibility. I can only lead the horse to the water, I cannot make the horse drink. ;)

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