Months ago, my boyfriend reasoned that it was high time for me to meet his parents. It was something that I had been delaying, but he had already met my family on two occasions, so I couldn’t put off the dreaded day any longer. On top of the usual nerves about whether they would like me or find me an eyesore, I had a pressing problem: They only spoke Chinese. My spoken command of the language was dreadfully poor, limited only to ordering food and answering questions about the weather.
Oh, and did I mention that his parents live across the Causeway? Yes, I’m dating a Malaysian, and his parents live in Skudai, Johor Bahru. It’s a good 30 to 45 min drive from the checkpoint. Here’s a few key points that I got out of my experience that you can hopefully learn from.
#1 Make sure you’re 100% prepared before the actual day.
My parents drove my boyfriend and I in on that day, approximately a week after the start of the Lunar New Year. They dropped us off at a bus stop outside his place, where his brother was supposed to fetch us. Then, this happened:
“My brother said that my father sent the car for a wash. So my father will be fetching us instead.”
NO WAIT WHAT I HAVEN’T REHEARSED MY NEW YEAR GREETINGS YET W-W-WHAT?
I had planned to practice my new year greetings, and think of conversation topics along the way. But because of this unforeseen turn of events, I ended up sitting in a car with my boyfriend’s dad in (rather awkward) silence.
#2 Be prepared for different customs and traditions, even if you’re of the same ethnicity.
I never thought that our dining culture could be so different that it would pose a problem, but I was proven wrong. There was a lack of ladles, and they used forks and spoons instead of chopsticks. How was I supposed to cook my food in a hotpot with a fork?
Dining culture aside, I was also unprepared for the extreme amount of spice in their unassuming looking chilli sauce. Upon trying a tiny portion, I didn’t even say anything, I just ran for my mug of water on the coffee table and emptied its entire contents into my mouth. MY MOUTH WAS ON FIRE. Everyone laughed heartily.
#3 Try not to let the age gap get to you.
My boyfriend is seven years older than me, and about to graduate from university. He’s the last to graduate amongst his group of friends, all of whom are already working. In fact, quite a few of them are married, and some even have kid(s) in tow. The age gap was pretty palpable. I felt really out of place, with the general discussion being centered on jobs, marriage, finances and even insurance.
#4 The Malaysian accent will throw you off.
It’s perfectly alright when you’re talking to a few people, but when it’s a group of fourteen people laughing raucously with multiple conversations happening at the same time, you’ll definitely be stunned. I even thought that they lapsed into Hokkien at a point in time, but apparently not.
#5 Suck it up.
If there’s anything you’re unhappy about or discomfited by, try to leave it to after the day is over. Don’t create a scene on the spot. In retrospect, I’m glad that I put up a smile and readily agreed when his friends wanted to continue the round of CNY visits at another friend’s house during dinner time. After all, you only get one chance to make a first impression, and you want to make sure that you do it right.
All in all, my boyfriend’s friends and family were nothing short of welcoming and friendly, so there’s a lot to be grateful for. Committing to a transnational relationship and marriage requires a lot of thought and dedication. In my specific case, I also learnt to be conscious of certain different standards and biases, and to never ever be patronizing about the supposed city vs suburb divide.
My grandma predicted that I would break up with my boyfriend after visiting his parents in Malaysia.
I’m proud to report back: not a chance!