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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Chinese American Marriage Tips

I am in a mixed marriage that spans two cultures. My wife is from Taiwan and I am American. Parts of my side go back to before the revolution - Scots Irish farmers among others (Scottish, German, may be American Indian, French Canadian, etc), and ancestors of mine have been around California since the Gold Rush. There is a lot of differences in culture between an ethnic Chinese who's family has been here since the Gold Rush, and a first generation immigrant.

Chinese American Marriage Statistics:
Chinese marry non-Chinese in the US is 15%. The inter-marriage for Chinese Women is higher than men.

My observations/tips from my marriage and observing friends, family, etc:

  1. Don't argue with your spouse in front of your in-laws or your parents. This includes raising your voice.
  2. Chinese/Taiwanese/Korean are super focused on education and put a huge amount of pressure on their kids because they usually expect great results. They will sacrifice incredibly for their kids education. My daughter mentioned a friend who was in tears because she got I think it was a B on a test.
  3. Expect to move to a good school district. This is usually done by looking at the test scores. For those who can afford it, private academies. In Southern California the school districts with a heavy Chinese population are San Marino, Arcadia, Walnut Valley/Diamond Bar, Rowland Heights, ABC Unified in Cerritos, Sunny Hills (more Korean there), etc.
  4. If your Father-in-law offers you a drink, take it.
  5. Don't be surprised if your in-laws move in with you. A recent trend I have seen is elder care, where the elderly are taken away during the day for activities.
  6. Food - be adventuresome, and if your wife cooks it, eat it, or at least try it. Think of the Children's book, Green Eggs and Ham.
  7. Politics dealing with China/Taiwan - usually a bad subject. Especially with other family or friends (lose lose topic usually).
  8. Key term to learn - Soft Rice. Means you are being supported by your wife (babies are fed soft rice or gruel). Not a good term to hear.
  9. Have a sense of humor and count to 10 or 100 as needed, for there will be a lot of surprises.
  10. If your mate feels more comfortable communicating in Chinese with friends, just grin and bear it, especially if they have not seen each other for a while.
  11. Ettiquette - I have noticed when friends are in the Chinese mode and eating they talk with their mouth open, just chat chat chat. When in the American mode, if you are talking while chewing with your mouth open or food in it, you get the look.
  12. 12. First generation immigrants are often more achievement focused than second. So if you marry somebody first generation, they may be more focused on achievement than having a good time. Be aware of it after the initial puppy love wears off.
  13. For buying a house, understand some basic Feng Shui. No houses with 4's in them (4's in Mandarin and Japanese has the same sound as death). 8's are great. This advice also goes for phone numbers. Don't be at the end of a street (which makes sense because Chinese Ghosts go in straight lines, and so can drunk drivers. The house diagonal from where I grew up from was up the street from the Elk's Lodge, and quite a few cars did not make the turn. Luckily they had this huge palm tree in the front). Never have a stair way from the 2nd floor that goes directly out to the front door (this lets out all the luck of the house).
  14. Don't be surprised if your ethnic Chinese Spouse gets a heavy duty stove fan so they can do some real wok cooking. Most newer houses just are not made for cooking. Some houses in areas with large Chinese populations are actually putting in heavy duty gas burners and the heavy duty fans.
  15. If your spouse is very frugal because they grew up poor, and are still penny pinching. Look at your own habits (like that morning cup of Starbucks).
  16. Cars - Toyota, Honda, BMW, and Mercedes seem to be the preferred brands.
  17. New is good for cars and houses. Usually they are not into used since who knows what spirits may be there. So if you are into old houses and fixing them up, you may want to have a serious talk with your spouse about this.
  18. Child punishment. What may be acceptable to your spouse may be totally unacceptable to you. Like in some European countries, it's against the law to spank kids. In the US one spouse may view corporal punishment as fine, and another as criminal. And it's important to understand what is allowed by your states law anyway (like leaving Children alone at home at what age, corporal punishment, etc.).
  19. Gifts - I suggest have the spouse of the culture of the giftee figure out what is acceptable. For example in Taiwan giving of clocks is not good (running out of time). English culture has a similar issue with giving of knives (the gift of a knife will sever the relationship). For Chinese weddings, red envelopes filled with money are appropriate.
  20. Watch the Joy Luck Club and don't be like the husband about the ice cream.
  21. Eat Drink Man Woman - Great movie to understand about Chinese culture and food.
  22. All you can eat Sushi places are places your spouse may really like (they may also bankrupt the place).
  23. Just because something is Chinese related, does not mean your spouse will automatically be interested in it. For example a first generation immigrant may have no interest in the Chinese American experience during the Gold Rush (and vice versa).
  24. Chinese have this habit of laughing at non-Chinese speaking Mandarin due to pronunciation issues. It's always a bad idea of make fun of somebody who is learning a foreign language (like your spouses English), but there seems to be a double standard here. Just be aware of it.
  25. Never sign your name in red (Japanese, Taiwan, and Korean culture issue).
  26. In marriage, in Chinese tradition the groom's family pays for everything. In American, the Bride pays. Most wedding receptions are at a Chinese Restaurant (usually a dim sum place that is a sea food place at night).
  27. Don't expect your wife to be the world's greatest cook. She may have been so busy and focused on going to school that she never learned how to cook.
  28. Learn tPublish Posto use chopsticks and let your kids learn also. When around the Chinese side of your family, it looks better for you.
  29. Never stick your chopsticks straight up in a bowl of rice.
  30. Always finish all the rice in a bowl.
  31. When going out with your parents, in-laws, ethnic Chinese friends to restaurants always pay the bill. This can get really interesting when people start doing the trick of accidentally paying the bill on the way to the restroom, fighting for the check from the waiter/waitress, etc..

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

32. If keeping the Chinese culture is important to your spouse, be 100% supportive, even if it means you don't understand a word of what your spouse and kids are saying in Chinese.

33. Being financially successful will make up for not being Chinese.

October 17, 2007 at 1:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

learn chinese.


November 1, 2007 at 6:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

half of your comments do not apply to Chinese coming from Mainland China.

December 6, 2007 at 8:05 AM  
Blogger Ray said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

December 21, 2007 at 11:43 AM  
Blogger steph said...

I loved your tips (applies to my family).
My parents are 1st generation so another tip for my bf was to speak simple English and avoid using fancy words.

I was wondering what your biggest challenge was for your interracial marriage. Also what are the daily struggles of being in such a marriage?

Thanks :)

September 18, 2008 at 5:35 PM  
Blogger Ray said...

My in-laws English is a little better than my Mandarin, so I either use a translator (amazing what does not get translated), really simple language, or body language. My in-laws are amazing and we get along well.

On what is the hardest on a day to day basis is the usual family issues. My daughter's High School work is one right now, with a difference in my wife's culture vs. my more Americanized daughter.

September 19, 2008 at 10:04 AM  

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