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[The FAQ]: Chinese Valentines Day

Some advice about handling Chinese V-Day, meeting your boyfriend/girlfriend's parents, and cultural taboos to avoid.
2014-07-24 18:30:44
"The FAQ" deals with vexing questions about living in China that we don't get to with our other articles and columns. So... mainly all the stuff that doesn't involve where to eat some dinner or get drunk.

Chinese Valentine’s Day is coming up on Saturday August 2nd. In China, this means you’ll also have to stress over Chinese superstitions when buying gifts. To help you out, we’ve come up with several Do’s and Don’ts for those in this position, and those who may be meeting the parents for the first time. Scary stuff, I know. Good luck.

In terms of gift giving and what NOT to get:

Clocks/watches should be avoided at all costs

This is because the words for giving a clock (送鐘, sòng zhōng) sound like the words for the funeral ritual (送終 sòng zhōng). Clocks are a symbol of time running out so unless you’re trying to subtly let your significant other that your break-up is imminent OR that you’re planning on committing suicide/killing someone, then don’t plan on getting this for them because it indicates the end of relationships and life.

Don't give pears or umbrellas

Both "pear" (梨, Lí) and "umbrella" (伞, Sǎn) sound like words for splitting up - (离, Lí and 散, Sàn). So you can guess why this gift would be deemed as inappropriate to give to your boyfriend or girlfriend… unless you want to break up. Then go for it. Let them cry their woes into the handkerchief you so thoughtfully bought for them.

Don't give gifts in sets of four

The Chinese word for four (四, sì,) sounds like death (死,sǐ). So yeah, probably not a good idea. While we're on the topic of death, lilies, and chrysanthemums are also not that fitting, because lilies ( 百合, Bǎihé) symbolize death and chrysanthemums (菊花, Júhuā) are usually given out during funerals. Not to mention, chrysanthemum is also slang for "anus." If your Chinese Valentine’s Day is somehow meant to be filled with sad memories of death and despair then by all means, shower him/her in lilies.

Never give shoes

In Chinese, to "give shoes" (送鞋子,sòng xiézi) is like sending a signal to walk away. So, if you absolutely must get him/her a pair, make your significant other give you 1rmb in return so that the Chinese shoe gods see that as them buying the shoes themselves and will thus focus their wicked powers on other unsuspecting couples.

Don't Give Green Hats

A man who wears a green hat (帶綠帽, dài lǜ mào) is a cuckold. Why is this, you ask? Back in the day there was this village hat maker who was getting it on with this businessman's wife. He made a special green hat for the businessman and told him to wear it for good luck whenever he traveled to another village for business. Whenever the hat maker saw the businessman walk out the door wearing the green hat, he knew it was cool to bang for a few days. So girls, don't ever buy a green hat for your man.

Just be sure to keep in mind that like everywhere, Chinese culture has specific things that are deemed appropriate and inappropriate. If you ever do slip up, sa jiao (撒娇) which basically means "act cute", get him/her a couple t-shirt, speak in a whiny voice - which most Chinese people love, and you’ll be okay. Hopefully.

If you're meeting your boyfriend/girlfriend's parents, always show respect to the family and try to impress them. Family ties are really important in Chinese culture - when you date a Chinese person, you also date their family. No matter how good your relationship is, if the parents say no, that might be the final call. Here's some rules to help you out with that.

Call your Significant Other's Parents Ayi And Shu Shu

Mr. and Mrs. imply too much formal distance. These are your prospective in-laws, not business clients. By addressing them as Ayi and Shu Shu you’re making yourself part of the family. It's polite. In fact, before you go into the door, drop an "ayi hao, shushu hao!" Pretty slick right? Be sure to ask if you should take off your shoes too.

On a similar note, ask them questions like "how is your health lately"? and say things like "You look so young!" and so on. Just don't be too obvious if you're faking.

Every Time You Meet The Parents, Bring Some Gifts.

This is especially true the first time. You don't need to give them an envelope full of money - you're not Chinese - but show some respect by bringing some gifts. This doesn't have to mean spending a ton of money. For mom, some jewelry, beauty products, or scarves are a good call. For dad, maybe a tie, some cufflinks, or an electric razor - don't assume that the dad will like cigarettes and baijiu. Even if you don't have time, at least buy some fruit. In fact, fruit is always a good call and there's fruit stores everywhere.

Be Careful With Your Words

Be careful what you say. Your relationship with his/her parents can potentially make or break your relationship. Chinese parents have more "veto power" than Western parents, so sometimes it's better to just agree - even if you know you're right.

Always Pour Tea

Pour tea constantly even if their cups are full – remember that high school lecture about surface tension? Yeah it actually surprisingly comes in handy. If someone manages to get to the teapot first and serves you, make sure to hold the cup with both hands or use your fingers to tap against the table to thank them. And make sure to serve everyone else before yourself. This is seen as a sign of respect.

Be sure to starve yourself before a meal at the parents’ place, because they will seriously shovel food onto your plate whether you like it or not. But make sure not to eat every last bit or it’ll imply that his/her parents didn’t make enough food for you.

Don't Get Into A Baijiu Drinking Contest

If you get offered alcohol or cigs, it's ok to take a little bit, but don't feel like you have to have a drinking contest, which you will almost definitely lose. You don't want your lover's parents thinking you're a messy drunk now, right?