I am worried about meeting my boyfriend’s parents.
They do speak English, but it isn’t their first language. How do I deal with a language barrier? What do I do if they serve unusual food? What should I wear? Do I call them Mr. and Mrs.? What are safe topics to talk about? The weather, work, school, faith? What should I bring as a hostess gift?
Any advice you could offer would be so helpful!
Heidi (23, Ontario)
I feel your pain. I really do. Meeting your person’s people can be really intimidating. It’s one of the most intimidating things about a new relationship. So many things can go wrong! What if they don’t laugh at your jokes? What if you do something offensive? What if you don’t get along? What if you set the yard on fire? What if you give someone a black eye while you’re playing volleyball? WHAT IF YOU HAVE TO SHARE A BATHROOM WITH THE CAT?
First off: relax. If you keep worrying, you’ll make it worse. You can run through all of the worst-case scenarios in your head, but chances are, everything will be just fine.
Oh, and in this situation, you are the kettle and I am the pot. I’m preaching to myself, here. I’ve been there, done that, stressed and obsessed more than I’d like to admit. But guess what? I’m still alive. And I’ve met some really great parents (and siblings and aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents).
Any time you enter into a family setting with a family that isn’t your own, it’s like entering into a new culture. You could grow up side-by-side your entire lives and still experience entirely different family cultures. Family dynamics are strange to outsiders. That’s how families work. The anxiety you feel about fitting in with his family is totally normal. The cross-cultural aspect just adds a layer of complications.
Run through some of these questions with your man ahead of time. Let him know that you’re apprehensive and a little nervous of the unknown. Ask him to tell you about his parents; any insight you can get beforehand is going to ease your anxiety. Brainstorm any potential huge social faux pas you need to avoid. (For example, are you allowed to look the cat in the eye?) He’s the expert when it comes to his own family. He can answer a lot of the cultural specifics that I can’t.
Now in terms of that language barrier — if they are able to do so, I hope they would speak in a language you can understand when you’re around. If there’s something said you don’t understand, it’s perfectly polite to ask your boyfriend to translate for you. If you really want to impress them, ask them how to say “thank you” and whip that out after you eat dinner.
My best advice when you meet new people is to keep them talking about themselves. When you are engaged and interested in someone, they are more likely to feel warm and pleasant thoughts towards you. Ask questions. Offer compliments. Smile. If all else fails, ask them what your boyfriend was like as a child. Every mother has a few good stories to share.
Take a little something with you as a hostess gift that says something about your own family. A jar of Grandma’s homemade jam or your mom’s oatmeal cookies would do the trick. Meeting the parents isn’t a major holiday, though. Don’t spend your whole paycheque on a hostess gift. A little something is thoughtful, but anything more than that makes it look like you’re trying too hard.
Don’t worry, my friend! It’s only once that you have to meet his parents for the first time! Every time after that will get easier. The bottom line is this: if this guy is smitten with you, chances are the people who are smitten with him will also be smitten with you. Relax and try to have fun.
Male nurses, Grandma’s ashes, and potty-trained cats,
Here’s what you need to do to be a part of the fun:
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