I am one of a huge number of Chinoys that aren’t as in tune with Chinese traditions as our ancestors would like, but there are a few things that I keep in mind that help me get a few approving nods from my ahma every now and then. I wrote this article in the hopes that it’ll help a few other non-traditional Chinoys out there who may be struggling to get a few nods of approval from the more traditional side of their family.
Here are some things non-traditional Chinoys should keep in mind:
1. Always ask if they’ve eaten.
Who do I mean by “they”? “They” would anyone that has entered your home — whether it be cousins, uncles, aunts, friends of your grandparents — it doesn’t matter. Ask them if they’ve eaten, and then no matter what they say, bring them some food and something to drink. Aggressive hospitality is key. Fruits are a crowd favorite, but rice crackers are fun too. If you’ve got cake, that is always a fun thing to offer your guests.
2. Walk behind or beside your elders
Walking behind your older relatives is a sign of respect, letting them lead you to wherever your next destination is. To the dining room, the living room, or to the seat in front of the television, trail behind them. You walk beside them when you’re having a conversation, or if they’ve explicitly asked you to accompany them somewhere because it could mean they need your assistance. Otherwise, let them go ahead of you.
3. No black clothes
Try to avoid wearing black at all costs. Sure, it may look slimming, but no black outfit in your closet will match the darkness of the looks thrown your way when you show up. Better yet, if you’re attending a joyous occasion, wear red clothes with white polka dots. Always have at least one outfit that’s appropriate for all events, and always have it ready. I know I’ve been surprised by being told there was a family event I need to show up at just a few hours before. Having an outfit that’s always ready to go has saved yours truly from more than a couple of fashion faux pas.
4. Make a mental note of recent achievements in the community.
Especially for Manila Chinoys, the community seems large, but everybody knows everybody. It’s more than likely someone will bring up a recent achievement, and actually knowing something about it will melt any ice that has formed — because you refused to take my advice about not wearing black. In fact, if you can throw some of your achievements into the conversation, you may just go home with a few more aunties and uncles that will want to kaisiao you with someone.
5. Know how to play mahjong.
The older relatives love this, and anyone that grew up with their ahmas has at least one mahjong set at home. If you’re at a house gathering, it won’t be long until someone calls for a mahjong game and even if you never end up at the table, just knowing what’s going on is a plus. Do you know what’s an even bigger plus? If you can tell what tiles you have in your hand without flipping them over. That’s a pro move right there, one I’ve only seen the most shark-like ahmas pull.
6. Have candy on you.
This is the key to getting the little cousins you have that you didn’t even know existed to like you. I feel like this applies to any kid, whether or not he or she is Chinoy, but it’s still worth saying. Who doesn’t like getting a treat or two for no reason. Getting a sweet treat from someone older is always a bonus, it feels like you’re their favorite. It’s a no-brainer that giving the little rascals candy is an easy way to endear them to you, and you don’t have to worry so much about the sugar crash. As long as their parents know that you’re giving them a little sweet treat, you should be fine.
7. Don’t cut your noodles.
Do not slice up your noodles. Noodles are symbols of long life and prosperity, especially birthday noodles. Unless you have a disability wherein you cannot leave your noodles unsliced, I beg you to just use your fork to twist it up, and leave them long. I’ve seen the look of shock when noodles have gotten sliced up at a Chinese celebration, and unless it’s being fed to a toddler, it’s not cute.
8. The eldest person at the dining table gets served first.
There’s usually a lazy Susan in the middle of the table. If the first dish is set down in front of you, turn the table so that the dish is directly in front of the oldest person at the table and insist they go first. If they insist that you go first, do not do it. Have either the second eldest person or one of the people beside the eldest one go ahead of you, then follow the order whichever way they spin it — clockwise or counterclockwise. The same rules apply if the food is being manually passed around. The oldest person first then, it’s handed down clockwise or counterclockwise.
9. Know what to call your relatives.
It’s always best if you know what to call your relatives. They like to feel like you remember them from that one time you met them when you were a baby and literally could not retain any information after being exposed to it once. So this guide might help decipher and figure out what to call that one lady that held you for 5 seconds before getting passed on to that other guy that you threw up on when you were 3 months old.
Hopefully, these tips will help you get in your relatives’ good graces if you were even out of them in the first place.
If you enjoyed this article, you might be interested in reading about how Chinoy families express their love.