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Relatively Horrible

How to fight back against annoying family members


Warm family reunions, a table of delicious food, fireworks—ah, Spring Festival. The reality, however, tends to be nerve-wracking, what with all the boring, annoying, and woefully offensive questions from Chinese relatives.

From “Can you understand the English words on TV?” to “How much did your parents pay for your tuition?”, every mundane facet of your life seems to interest them. They care about you, but they lecture you and judge you. For “leftover” people, the question “Do you have a girlfriend/boyfriend?” is enough to make you spit.

You might think this is an easy question to answer, but—oh you sweet, innocent simpleton—whether your answer is “yes” or “no”, follow- up questions await, ready to pounce at the first sign of weakness.

Let’s start with “yes”. If you admit you are in a relationship, the focus will immediately be transferred to your partner.

Relative: Good for you! How old is he?

Tài hǎo le! Tā duō dà niánjí?


You: Same as me.

Hé wǒ yīyàng dà.


R: Oh, that’s good. How much does he earn every month?

Nà hénhǎo a. Tā yī gè yuè zhèng duōshǎo qián?


Y: Uh…



R: If there is not an economic problem, you should consider getting married.

Jīngjì méi wèntì dehuà, nǐmen yīnggāi kǎolǜ jiéhūn le.


Y: We haven’t planned that.

Wǒmen hái méi jìhuà.


R: Then you should. Think about your age!

Gāi jìhuà le. Xiángxiǎng nǐ dōu duō dà le!


Let’s face it. Relatives have no concept of “privacy”; anything from age to salary is asked about with the polite manners and consideration of a rampaging hippo. And, what’s more, regardless of your answers to their barrage of questions the answer is always, “You should get married,” which, as advice goes, is not helpful.

So maybe you decide that you’re going to avoid all that, and just answer “no” to the question. Oh dear. Be aware that now, you’re going to hear “you should”. A lot.

R: You are still single? Oh, you should see someone.

Nǐ hái dānshēn? Nǐ yīnggāi zhǎo nánpéngyǒu le.


Y: Actually, I am not that desperate.

Qíshí wǒ hái bù jí.


R: You should be. If you don’t find a boyfriend now, the good boys will be picked up by others first.

Gāi jí le. Nǐ xiànzài bù zhǎo hǎonánháir dōu bèi biérén tiāo zǒu le!


Y: I will be able to find my Mr. Right in the future.

Wǒ jiānglái huì zhǎodào héshì de duìxiàng.


R: You should take action now. What are your standards for a boyfriend? Let me fix you up.

Nǐ xiànzài jiùgāi xíngdòng le. Nǐ xiǎng zhǎo shénme yàngr de? Wǒ bāng nǐ jièshào ba.


If you don’t want a blind date in the very near future, end the conversation. Or, maybe ask the nosy relative a question in the same vein, like when they are going to die and that they should really think about it because they need to “think about their age”.

What, you think you’re exempt just because you’re married? Ha! No, now they expect you to impregnate or be impregnated by someone—a subject everyone is happy to discuss with their family members.

Again, the advice they give is the same. But, if you’ve had a shotgun wedding and planned nine months in advance, you’re still going to face questions about educational issues from kindergarten to university.

Since it is clear that we are all targets regardless of our life choices, it might be time to work on some strategy.

People love dishing out advice much more than taking it. You should be aware that they won’t end their lectures unless they feel that you have accepted all their opinions. If you want the easy way out, you’re just going to have to capitulate. Talking back is definitely not a good idea, because it would incur more nagging. You need a bag of tricks. The most effective is using your parents as a firewall. They can bully you, but it would be rude to bully your parents (yet).

R: Are you planning to have a baby this year?

Nǐ dǎsuàn jīnnián yào háizi ma?


Y: Yeah, I hope to. But my mom suggested we consider the baby’s zodiac sign.

Shì de, wǒ xiǎng yào. Dànshì wǒ mā jiànyì wǒmen kǎolǜ yíxià háizi de shǔxiang.


Of course, details of marriage and babies are far from enough to sate their curiosity. Your career, income, and lifestyle will all be topics. They will seize every opportunity to show sympathy and teach you a life lesson—even and especially if their life has been rubbish. In this situation, you can consider switching the conversation to another direction or a deeper level.

R: Aren’t the housing prices in Beijing very expensive?

Běijīng de fángzū búshì hěn guì ma?


Y: Yeah, they are.

Shì tǐng guì de.


R: Then why do you have to live there? Come back home and get married! Life would be much easier!

Nà nǐ wèi shěnme hái liú zài nàr? Huíjiā jiéhūn ba! Jiālǐ rìzi hǎguò duō le!

那你为什么还留在那儿?回家结婚 吧!家里日子好过多了!

Y: I remember a report that said our hometown is experiencing an aging population and a labor shortage. What do you think of this?

Wǒ jìde yǒu bàodào shuō zánmen jiāxiāng rénkǒu lǎolínghuā hé láodònglì duǎnquē wèntì hěn yánzhòng. Zhèxiē wèntì nǐ zěnme kàn ?


“Relatively Horrible” is a story from our newest issue, “Family”. To read the whole piece, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the iTunes Store.

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