5 Experiences Living with my Chinese Family in Law

In family friends by Michael Michelini12 Comments

picked up my chinese family at the airportA couple weeks ago I picked up my Chinese family in law – well, to start, my father in law and my grandmother in law at the Shenzhen airport. They flew down from the northern China city of Shenyang (her hometown) and was their first time down in South China. Wangxia wanted to have them come down to help around the house since her and I are so busy. At first I was resistant – but I opened up to the idea. Just like everything in my life, I try my best to keep an open mind and embrace change.

I was going to blog about it as soon as they came down, but I think now that they have been living in our home (2 bedroom apartment) for about 11 days I have enough experience to share with those interested:

  1. They are here to help – My wife Wangxia is now almost 8 months pregnant, she’s still working as much as she can, and I’m still working hard on my startup Social Agent. So they are here to help. Seems Chinese, or maybe Asian culture, that the whole family works together to support each other. I think its a great idea. Her father is cooking some great Chinese food (granted I am getting a bit tired of Chinese food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner day in and day out…), and even small things like being at the house when deliveries come is helpful. Really takes a load off having all these to-dos in the back of your mind.
  2. Don’t talk directly to the in-laws – use your wife/husband as a go between – this I was advised by a few friends who are married to Chinese – don’t argue / dispute directly with the in-laws – keep your patience, and report back to your spouse. He/she is the buffer. There are some general lifestyle and hygiene differences I am getting used to, some things in the bathroom I prefer not to share, let’s just keep it at that for this post.
  3. Little bit crowded at home – Yes, this is something that is a challenge – there are 4 of us in a 2 bedroom apartment. And a baby will be living here soon in mid-June. We make it work, but of course this is something of an experience. I think in Chinese and Asian culture, living in close quarters is part of the lifestyle – but definitely something I personally need to adjust to.
  4. Spend some extra time to teach them the new technology and lifestyle techniques – Not just in China, but everywhere, there are drastic differences and educational differences from grandparents, to parents, to children. But I think its fair to say its a pretty big extreme differences in Chinese culture during these generations. Her father is pretty good at learning how to use mobile phones and can maneuver pretty well his smartphone. But some things I take for granted, for example getting into the building with a IC card, getting used to our washing machine, getting around different spots in the kitchen, need to have clear directions and shown a couple times. Patience is a virtue, I learn that time and time again.
  5. Improving my Chinese and learning more Chinese culture and perspective – They speak zero English. So its more chances for me to be forced to practice and improve my current still limited Chinese language skills. In addition to the language, I get to hear stories about “back in the day” from Grandma when she was younger, as well as perspective of then and now. It makes great twitter content 🙂

So this is my experience thus far. This list will probably grow over time, but I’m having fun, embracing, and adjusting.

  • Michael, fascinating. I love these stories. And I especially love when westerns talk about how weird it is… How into each others’ life Asian family members are. And, also literally, as is the case with your home.

    How do you find the chinese language? (I studied filipino, chinese, and english in school, and hands down, chinese is my worst subject)

  • thanks Chiara, for reading and commenting! Ya, there is a massive cultural difference between east and west – no matter how fast technology develops 🙂

    Chinese is so hard! Though I should spend more time on it – I’m not a good language buff 😉

  • Paul

    I’m going through this myself and stumbled on the article looking for new advice/perspective. I’ve been married 5 years, wife is 3 months pregnant, and the in-laws have been with us for around a month. I’m at my wits end already.

    The biggest problem for me is lack of privacy. Sometimes I just want to get a cup of tea or a bowl of Raisin Bran without pushing my way past people. They’re also pretty quick to tell us that our house isn’t clean enough or that we should be doing task X this way instead of the way I’m currently doing it. I’ve lived independently since I was 18, and if my own parents came up and acted like this I’d throw them out on their ear. I’m trying to be tolerant but it would be a lie to say we’re really getting along – if it were a couple of weeks I’d be OK, but when someone is staying for a year, and it’s in your home, you can’t help but be blunt sometimes.

    I know some rudimentary Chinese, and my father in law speaks about as much English as I do Chinese. That does help somewhat, but without having the skill to provide context and being able to use the right tone, this limited knowledge can also cause problems too.

    Good luck with your situation.

  • Hi Paul,

    Yes we are in a similar situation for sure!

    I actually am getting better but today had a space issue too. I don’t even have a table to put my things on…. And one small cabinet for my clothes…..

    The perks are we have a house of people to watch over us and i am getting better at my chinese

    Maybe we should all setup a group for people like us, we actually we now made a local wechat group of husbands to share perspectives with and it has helped so much

    Beer is also a remedy haha

  • Roger

    Mike – Like you, I also opened my door to Chinese in-laws from Shenyang. I probably should Skype you for full effect but I can sure give you some heads-up on a few things to help you avoid disaster. Most serious issues are around finances and keeping your lead place in the ‘wolf pack’ when they live under your roof.

  • hi Roger,
    Thanks for the tips! I’m game for a skype call about this if you are 🙂 you can book a call with me via calendly.com/michelini – looking forward!

  • David Carlino Tabano

    Always enjoy reading about your experiences Mike!

  • hey David!

    So happy to hear that – i’m glad you’re keeping up with the blog – how are things with you ? 🙂

    I miss those days in Italy – was amazing memories

  • David Carlino Tabano

    Yeah they were good times! I’m glad you blog- it gives us a window into your world! Life’s good on my end- working on a PhD, getting married in June, and planning a honeymoon that will hopefully include a long layover in Hong Kong if we can play the miles game right!

  • where’s your blog man – would love to follow it too – 🙂 Wow, making big moves – PHD, marriage – would love to catch up on a Hong Kong layover – maybe some Dim SUm!
    keep me posted and to both our success!

  • T.C.

    I was born into a Chinese family and I will say only one thing: it is a nightmare you can’t begin to imagine. Chinese parents are some of the idiotic people you will ever meet. They hold you back in life and they never let you get anywhere in your career. Chinese parents lack even the most basic common sense and they are also very bitchy.

    My advice to Mike is the following: get out. Living with a Chinese family is perhaps the worst fate you will ever know. Trust me on this: you will be infinitely happier without a Chinese family.

  • — Please reply above this line —

    Hi T.C.

    Well, I have to say for now it hasn’t gotten to be like this – for the most part we are just my father in law, my wife, and a hired maid…. —
    Mike Michelini
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