Meeting your boyfriend’s parents is never easy. In fact. I would go out on a limb to say that meeting any significant other’s relatives or close friends is terribly frustrating and nerve-wracking.
I did it though, so I guess that’s how I know things are getting serious. My Japanese boyfriend brought his American girlfriend home with him to Japan; we met the first week of his year -long tudy abroad in America. I probably didn’t do the whole “meeting the parents” altogether right – and I won’t honestly know until much farther down the road. But for the first three days at his house, I was curled up sick on a futon (bed) in the tatami (straw) guest room at my guy’s parent’s house – and I’ve had lots of time to think. You know, on account of being sick and all. I think I’ve compiled a pretty good list of 11 Do’s and Don’ts for meeting the Japanese parents
(Ryosuke’s Father – who speaks no English – helping me move into my new dorm – Oak House – at ICU in Tokyo. I did the Summer Course, and intensive Japanese Language program. He is showing an adorable amount of support by wearing a shirt I gave him from my home University, Ursinus College)
First of all, the negatives, because that’s the kind of mood I’m in right now.
1. Don’t get jetlagged. His mother would stay up for as late as I did, and wake up very early to cook breakfast for the rest of the family. If you don’t want the mother to secretly resent you, don’t get jetlagged. If you do, bring sleeping pills (from what I hear, they are incredibly difficult to get in Japan). The first day you get there, I don’t care how tired you are; wait until the appropriate time to sleep. Don’t nap. Try to hold out until at least 9PM. I know you’re getting off a nice 12 hour flight, but you have to kick jetlag the first day.
2. Don’t get sick. Along the lines of adjusting your body to the correct time, don’t get sick. Sick people can’t be perfectly polite, adorable, endearing, and helpful. But if you HAVE to get sick (I seem to always) then make sure you DON’T do any of these next few things:
3. Don’t make you boyfriend take a week off of work and/or quit his part-time job to take care of you. Because mine did, and ended up losing over 1,000 dollars worth of temp work to hold my hand while I slept.
4. Don’t sit around and watch TV. I don’t care how bad you feel. At least make an effort to be conversational. Ryosuke and I would watch one episode of How I Met Your Mother a night, but that was it.
6. Don’t wear shoes inside. This only applies in Japan, and even so, I figured this was a given (at least in Japan); it’s one of the first things you learn in Japan, and is pretty easy to figure out. But I thought I would include it just in case. The picture below is from when Ryosuke and I went apartment hunting. I want to call attention to the fact that, if you look at my feet, I am – in fact- wearing slippers, not shoes. Just so you know. Also – and updated – we ended up getting this apartment. I love it so much.
7. Don’t wear slippers on the tatami mat. This one is also rather specific, but I didn’t figure this one out until the third time I went to Japan. Oops. We never covered that in our pre-departure class… And I definitely stayed at with several Japanese families last summer, most of which who placed me in a tatami mat room, and never learned that fact. Darn. Now I feel bad. Don’t wear slippers on the tatami mat. Please.
8. Don’t be romantic in public. Or at his house. Or anywhere, really. Long hugs are also discouraged. That took some getting used to, and I’m still not entirely happy about it, but I’m getting better. Japan is pretty harsh on the whole PDA thing. Just try not to show any outward affection, to be safe.
9. Don’t pick your teeth with a toothpick without covering it with your hand – especially if you are a girl. That’s rude. I guess that’s also a given, but I had absolutely no idea.
10. Don’t pour your own drink. Don’t do it. If you’re thirsty (because cups in Japan are TINY), pour someone else a drink. It doesn’t matter if they cup is already mostly full and it doesn’t matter if you guys are just drinking water. If you want to be polite, don’t pour your own drink. It’s a matter of respect – so when you see the person next to you has an empty cup, fill ‘em on up!
11. Don’t spend all day on the computer typing up random lists instead of participating in conversation with the family. I’m guilty of this one. But, to be fair, I also sort of think I’m dying right now.
Now Enough with the negatives. Here are a string of positive things you should strive to do:
1. Cook for them. You should bring some traditional food from your hometown (or not even your hometown, but somewhere from your country) to prepare for them. Cooking is an essential part of Japanese life – I’m not trying to be sexist. Even breakfast is elaborate and it is pretty rare for a family to out to eat. We always have some form of Miso soup, salad, some meat product, eggs, tsukemono (slightly pickled cucumbers), and rice.
2. Realize, that in Japan, women are supposed to do mostly all the cooking – and don’t be offended by it. So while Ryosuke does next to all the cooking in OUR relationship (apparently I even make the rice wrong), that doesn’t mean I can’t cook, and that especially doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try. You know, to impress the family. I chose Skyline Chili. For Christmas two years back, I gave my parents $70 worth of assorted of Skyline Chili cans and sauce packets. Since there was still some left, I assumed it was fair game (sorry guys – if you’re reading this). Aside from the fact that they didn’t really have ample ground beef or any tomato paste in Japan, I cooked it pretty well. And by cooked, I mean I told Ryosuke what to do while sitting in a chair in the kitchen until I passed out (still sick) in the living room, and woke up three hours later, ready for dinner.
3. Bring them an Omiyage (お土産) gift. I didn’t count the Skyline Chili as a gift. In general, I try to bring one concrete, lasting object (like a necklace, keychain, recipe book, seasoning, hat, shirt, stuffed animal, or statue) and one “food” item. My food item of choice tends to be Skittles, a bag of the “Fun Sized” Halloween candy they sell year-round at Wal-Mart. You can’t get Skittles in Japan. My concrete object was a stone bunny statue. Technically I found it while cleaning out my room and packing for Japan, but I am a firm believer in re-gifting. After all, in Japan it seems like it is rarely about the gift itself as it is about the action of giving a gift. I also included some Ghanaian “stock” jewelry my mother brought back from Ghana last summer – for precisely this reason.
4. –Find out their interests. Ryosuke’s Father loves gardening. I made a point to go out into the garden every one and a while when he was working and comment on his growing plants. It helped that the tomatoes and cucumbers were ripe, so I could help pick those. They were delicious. Ryosuke’s Sister loves name-brand fashion. Even though she couldn’t speak any English, she had this wide variety of knowledge about most Japanese clothing brands. When Ryosuke, Moemi, and I went shopping, I let her tell me about the pluses and minuses of each brand she liked.
The picture is of Ryosuke’s father’s garden. He was showing me the plants and “let” me help him weed the garden. Thankfully I had lots of practice as a child (thanks mom and dad!)
5. Talk to them at any chance. I don’t think I have a particularly amazing personality. But I tend to think that I am endearing. I don’t care if you don’t like me when you first meet me, but I WILL grow on you. I think when I first meet someone, I become more endearing the more they get to know me (up until a certain point, and then I guess I go back to being headstrong).
6. Clean up after yourself. Of course they will fold up your futon, clean up your dishes, and clean up every mess that you make. And they will do that without ever complaining or telling you it bothers them. Honestly, I don’t know if it bother’s Ryosuke’s mom or not, but I try very hard to make a habit of leaving a room better than when I found it. It helps that Ryosuke occasionally “sheds” stuff from room to room.
7. Take a hint. No one will spell it out for you.
8. Eat everything on your plate. I don’t care if they tell you “Oh, you don’t have to finish everything!” They’re lying. You do. It’s just a fact of live, never waste food in Japan. Ryosuke always runs into all sorts of trouble when we’re in America. He has to finish everything on his plate. Even if he is full after the halfway point, he will eat himself sick unless I physically take his plate away. So in Japan, if you don’t have a huge appetite, tell them so. But finish everything on your plate. Please.
9. Take a bath every night. It’s just a Japanese thing. Families typically bathe in order importance – it’s a form of hierarchy. Let me explain. In a Japanese bath, there is a movable shower-head on one side next to a stool, and on the other side, there is a covered bathtub embedded in the floor. Before anyone takes a bath, the mother usually fills up this bathtub with scalding water and covers it with plastic shelves to keep it warm. The whole area has a tile floor with a single drain in the middle. When someone takes a “bath”, they sit on the stool and wash themselves using the showerhead. They rise, soap, shave, shampoo, condition, and everything else before they ever get into the bathtub. Everyone in the family uses the same bath water, you see, and if someone gets it the water dirty with dirt, soap, sweat, or hair then it ruins the experience for everyone behind them. So by the time you actually get into the bath, you are already clean. The bath is just meant for soaking and relaxing. After the last person, the water is drained, and every day, Ryosuke’s mother scrubs the bathtub clean again. He was shocked (and a little bit creeped out) to learn that my mother did not, in fact, scrub our bathtub every night.
10. Along that note, wash and clean yourself completely before you get in the bath. And don’t ever add cold water. Ryosuke tells me that he adds cold water all the time, so it’s ok. Don’t believe him. You’re a guest – so it’s best if you act like one. If the water is too hot for you, then get out. Don’t soak for very long. But don’t add cold water because then the last person will be freezing when the bathe.
11. Say thank you. All the time. Kill them with kindness and gratitude. A smile, an apology, and a “thank you” don’t cost you anything – and they do a world of good.
Anyways, thanks for reading this. Hopefully I will keep updating!