On our last evening in Y’s hometown, Siping, we have dinner at a restaurant with his parents and uncles and aunts from his father’s side.
We wait until everyone is in the room and seats are assigned in order of age. The most respected person (which is usually the oldest person in the room or if it’s a company the boss of the company) is seated opposite of the door. In this case, this is Y’s oldest uncle, daye (大爷), who is also the head of the family (again, because he is the oldest person in the family). Before Y’s grandfather died, his grandfather was the head of the family.
Since Y will pay for the dinner, he is the one to choose the dishes. He doesn’t care too much about these traditions, and also lets others choose from the menu.
I haven’t been feeling well the whole day (just two words: menstrual pain), but this is an important dinner I can’t miss.
When we are almost done with dinner, daye calls out my name. The whole table goes quiet. He asks me:
“How are you supposed to call me?”
I: “I’m sorry, I don’t remember. In Austria, we don’t distuingish between older and younger uncles of our father’s and mother’s side, like you do in China. That’s why I only remember the word shushu*.”
He, obviously not too happy about my answer: “Do you also eat like this in Austria?” Pointing at the round table filled with dishes that everyone shares with one another.
I: “We don’t. Everyone has their own plate with a single dish on it. We usually eat it with soup and salad.”
I really don’t feel like talking, but I try hard to smile. Somehow I already have a bad feeling about what is still to come.
He: “How long have you stayed in China for?”
I: “For two years.”
He: “U-huh, for more than two years.”
My father-in-law chips in: “For less than two years.”
Daye ignores what he has just said and goes on: “Since you’ve stayed in China for more than two years already, I assume you’re familiar with eating and drinking habits in China. Just a while ago, my niece’s boyfriend has actively raised his glass towards me. Actually, it should have been you who did that first.”
I: “What you’re saying is that I should drink alcohol with you? I’m sorry, I don’t drink.”
I look at Y for help. He tells me that I can also use water.
Daye: “Today, we’re here to see if you two will get my approval or not. You can decide for yourself if you raise your glass for me or not.”
What do you think? Will I raise my glass? You can post your guess in the comments section beneath. The answer will be revealed in part 2 of this story which will be posted next Tuesday (8 Oct). Stay tuned!
*Shushu (叔叔) is the word you use to adress your father’s younger brother in China, the right word to adress Y’s oldest uncle from his father’s side would have been daye (大爷)