On staying at your in-law’s and cultural differences

While staying at my in-laws, my MIL does everything for me. She cooks, washes the dishes, makes our bed, cleans our room, heats up my medicine, washes the clothes and accompanies me no matter where I go. She holds my hand (well, actually it’s rather a grasping of my wrist), not only if we have to cross the street but also when we just walk down a pedestrian-only street. I tell her that I can walk on my own, to no avail.

I’m not the only one who gets spoiled like a 3-year-old kid (now, even as a 3-year-old I couldn’t have possibly got spoiled like that, after all, I was growing up in a big family). On the fourth day of our stay, Y can’t bear it anymore. He tells her that she doesn’t have to treat us like little kids, that she doesn’t have to do everything for us. That we’re fine on our own (just like in Shenzhen, where we are doing everything ourselves too). He explains that I’m not used to getting everything done by someone else. And that I prefer walking on my own.

When he tells me, I ask him about her reaction. He says: “She said that I have finally grown up.”

At the same time a year earlier, my Chinese friend Z lives with his in-laws in Switzerland. Right after their wedding, he and his wife live with her parents – for around a year.

He tells me: “It was really weird. I had to help so much in the household. I had to help clean the dishes, clean the house, I even had to help in the garden. I saw that my wife’s father got up to do the dishes, so I got up too, I mean, in China you rarely see men doing the dishes, but I thought if this is common here, I have to help too. And my father-in-law was really happy about it. In China, if you’re the guest of someone, the host will try to make your stay as comfortable as possible. That’s why they do everything for you.” His wife chips in: “If we had stayed there for only 3 days, you wouldn’t have had to help in the household either. But we basically lived there, so that’s a completely different situation. Also, our parents had to bring us up all these years, so when we visit them now, we’ll try to help as much as we can.” Z is surprised: “In China, your parents will think that you’re probably exhausted from work, so they’ll to these things for you in order to make you feel comfortable.”

She tells me: “When I stay at my in-laws in China, my MIL will also do everything for me. I realised that there’s no sense in asking if she needs any help, she’ll definitely decline. But if I just go there, push her away and do those things on my own, I can sense that she’s really happy about it and appreciates my help.”

Have you ever thought that somebody did much more for you than you considered necessary?

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11 thoughts on “On staying at your in-law’s and cultural differences

  1. I agree with your friend – unless you ‘push’ MIL and help her asking makes no sense, they will reject and reject.I went through that with my MIL and for her it doesn’t make sense child helps older generation. I could see it in Shanghai when we visited part of his family, they didn’t do a single thing in house, aunt of my husband came from work and had to cook (or her husband), I was the only one from younger generation who just went there and helped them peel the veggies, they were so surprised but for me it is shameful to see older people coming from work and still have to do things around youngs when they just sit on their butts.

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  2. My former MIL was the same. Whenever I went to their home in central China, she treated me like a little girl, scrutinizing everything I ate and making sure she always had those things on hand. I once expressed interest in walking around their town on my own, but both my MIL and FIL protested and said I could never do that on my own. I might get lost (I could speak pretty fluent Mandarin back then) and how would I ever find my way back home (it wasn’t a bit city and I knew it well enough to know my way around). They were the same when they lived with us for a year in California. But I always thought it could have been worse. At least they accepted me!

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  3. Can relate for sure. I tried pushing in and helping at the beginning but I finally gave up. It really appears that my MIL likes the cooking,etc. My only concession is that my cleaning lady still comes when they are staying with us because I need the moral support that I am a competent adult and she supports me!

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  4. I can relate as well. The first few weeks my boyfriend’s mother didn’t let me do anything around the house, but slowly things changed.

    I wash the dishes few times a week, wash me and my bf’s clothes and clean our floor. Of course because MIL is at home, she has more time to do those things, so sometimes I see clothes washed before I get home. We try to tell her that we can take care of our selves, but I think she doesn’t know how to be idle in the house. She needs something to do.

    Now that we are planning to move to the old family house soon, they are both terrified how we can take care of our selves and also with their other hand push us to do more things. It’s like they can’t decide if they (bf’s parents) should let us free or not.

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  5. In my case it is not really the mother in law doing all that stuff but my father in law. He has OCD which results him cleaning everything in the apartment several times a day. The problem is that it doesnt matter if someone has cleaned already before him, he will still go at it, no matter how tired he his or how late.

    So whenever we are in China, there is really nothing I can do about it. But when they visit us in Europe, I do my best to do all the work on my own and let him relax a bit, though I imagine that he doesnt feels relaxed at all due to OCD 😦

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  6. I knew I had to marry a Chinese!!!!!
    It’s funny because I had one of my first discussion with my MIL about helping in the house. In Italy, when you are invited over for dinner – especially by your in laws or any other older person – you are not supposed to help putting the table or charging the dishwasher. You’ll ask politely if you can help but there is no way that the hostess will accept. So I did. I mean, I was 26 and never had to actively help any adult in the house. Well,that was a big drama. My MIL complained to my husband that I was spoiled and rude and that I didn’t help her with putting the table and afterwards cleaning up. She even managed to phone an Italian acquaintance of her to check if it was something cultural or just me being a brat. Needless to say, I have been helping anyone since but I still miss the culture of hospitality of the southern world where you really feel pampered when going to someone else’s place.

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    • I think in Austria you’d be able to find both, depending on the individual. But usually if you’re a guest for just a day or two, I think it’s also more common that you won’t have to do anything as the daughter in-law. If you stay somewhere all the time it would be different, because you wouldn’t be considered a guest. I’m wondering, does it make a difference if you’re male or female (eg. would your MIL require a son in-law to help too)?

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  7. My MIL and FIL never let us help in the household. Pushing away would have never been a choices. In my husband’s family it’s the father who cooks, and the mother gives a helping hand once in a while. There is rarely cleaning around the house, so not much to do for me. My MIL comes up to our room just to give us some snacks but she would never clean the room or make our bed. We always did that ourselves. It might also be, because my standard of cleanliness differs a hundred miles from theirs. They think it’s too clean in our room haha But considering how my mom taught me to clean my room as a child, it is still very dirty.

    All in all I am happy if I can get a chance to help. No one thinks it’s special if I as a foreigner help with the cooking or if my Chinese husband as the only son does it. Somehow they seem really modern for being traditional Chinese farmers 🙂

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    • Thanks for sharing your experience with us! You’re right, it still differs from family to family. I think my MIL has learned to let my husband help a bit, she’ll often say she’ll do it if she sees he’s getting up to do the dishes, but her resistance has already grown weaker :-).

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