Feature photo courtesy of @wenlhsiao
"With all due respect, f*ck off"
As I scoured the internet for plane tickets to go back home for the upcoming Lunar New Year, the same Pavlovian worries arose:
How the f*ck do I tell my family to f*ck off?
Okay, let me start over. I love my family, and since I’m studying abroad in Amsterdam, I don’t get to see them very often. At the same time, it means an overwhelming number of questions and critiques surrounding my life choices are thrown at me whenever I do see them.
I am the youngest granddaughter of eleven grandchildren. The eight before me have studied law, medicine, computer science, and engineering in prestigious universities across Taiwan.
The ones that have graduated have settled into stable career paths, earning a stable income and, more importantly, some serious bragging rights for their parents; the ones that are still in college excel in their prospective academic fields and have even figured out plans for graduate school despite being just college sophomores.
In contrast, I seem like a wild child. By choosing to study away from home, in a city of supposed sin, and picking a “trivial” major like ‘media and information’ (or as my aunt likes to refer to it as, “media and no money”), I’ve become an easy target for snide comparisons and cheap jabs.
Here’s the thing: despite all that, I love going back home, especially since my grandmother makes a mean tuan yuan fan (“reunion dinner”). But part of surviving the experience is developing a tactical way to bear, or even enjoy it. Thus, I have curated a friendly guide to enjoying your time home by telling the people you love to f*ck off.
THE TROY BOLTON
Attack: “You’re giving up on your dreams.”
Defense: “No, I’m giving up on YOURS.”
When you’re younger, you say a lot of things you don’t mean. Somehow my aunts manage to remember the two days I wanted to become a lawyer but not the one entire month I was determined I had psychic powers like Raven Baxter from That’s So Raven. Typical.
I get where my aunties are coming from. I am lucky to have the opportunities to study towards any path of my choosing, and I don’t bear the burden of needing to become the breadwinner for my family. But the paradigm remains: I should choose wisely, following a stable career path like law or medicine that will get me the best bang for my buck.
At the same time, readers, it’s your life. You shouldn’t pave a path of regrets, playing into what others think your life should be like.
Be firm, tell them it is your life, and tell them you are aware of, and will hold yourself accountable to, the risks and consequences.
The cycle of expectations never seems to end. My 55-year-old father is still subject to being poked and nudged by my grandparents, who are 87 years old, about what he should be doing at his age, making comments on his retirement plans and comparing him to his siblings and cousins.
This trickles down to my relationship with my parents; even though they swear they’re more progressive than their parents, I often find myself trapped in the headspace between what I ‘want’ to be doing and what I ‘should’ be doing.
In East Asian countries, our collectivistic culture has created this cycle that seems impossible to break. Nevertheless, in the future, I want to make an effort towards breaking this pattern with my own children. If we continue to implement our own beliefs onto our children, they’ll never be liberated into being themselves.
THE ROASTED PIG
Attack: “What happened to your ex? He was such a lovely young man!”
Defense: “I can’t talk with a mouthful of food!”
You likely have a family member or two who can’t take the hint, so put yourself on autopilot: just nod along and stuff your face with food. If you want to perfect the process, start fixing a plate for them so their mouths will be too full to ask you about your relationships (or lack thereof).
Bonus points: this particular art of deflection gets you points for being *extra* filial.
THE LEFTOVER WOMAN
Attack: “Are you seeing anyone? You should be, you wouldn’t want to be anyone’s leftovers.”
Defense: “I may be unmarried but so are 8 of my cousins!”
Nothing takes a bigger toll on your self-esteem than your relatives asking you about your singledom life. Yes, ah-ma (“grandmother”) was married at 17 and had 2 kids by 20, but it doesn’t mean I’m anywhere close to that.
My parents are not too bothered by it; they’ve been parenting for the last 25 years, and they’re not ready to be grandparenting anytime soon.
But my grandparents who have 11 grandchildren but 0 great-grandchildren? They’re a little bit concerned.
If you want them to f*ck off, just divert the attention to your other unmarried family members (how come cousin Jerry, who is my age, never gets asked this? #patriarchy).
Attack: “What are you going to do with your degree?”
Defense: “Grandma, is that you?”
When all goes wrong, pretend your grandma is calling for you. No one's gonna argue with the matriarch of the family. If you want to make it more realistic, go help her out in the kitchen; you get to sneak a bite of the incredible dishes and escape from all the questioning.
Let’s face it, even when our relatives get on our last nerves by nagging our ears off, we still love them. Why ruin the perfect holidays by bickering over nothing? Use this handy guide to wiggle your way out uncomfortable conversations and avoid a scolding from your parents on the car ride home (as you balance glass containers of leftovers on your lap so they don’t spill, obviously).