A few weeks ago, 桂兰 asked me to meet her family for the National Holiday. And I was worried.
Her parents couldn’t speak any English. And I knew there was a certain protocol you follow when visiting your Chinese girlfriend’s family. But I wasn’t sure what it was. At least I knew you were supposed to give gifts.
So I asked 桂兰 for some advice. What would be a suitable gift for her parents? She said her mom liked money, and she didn’t know what her dad liked. Not a terribly helpful response.
So I asked some other friends for help. Finally I decided that tea and food were optimal gifts. Practically every Chinese person drinks tea, and everyone likes food. So I began the hunt for the right gifts.
Apparently, Longjing tea is a good one. So I found the nearest tea shop where the owner pulled a case out of storage and handed it to me. Next stop – food gifts.
AEON has practically any food item your heart desires. I walked through the foreign aisle, searching for just the right gift. It needs to have good packaging and taste good too. Ferrero Rocher looked acceptable. Fancy wrapping, clear case, and chocolate delectability.
One more thing. Yes, butter cookies should work. Tasty cookies packed inside a dark blue tin that looks like it was imported from some idyllic Norwegian village. I nearly bought a fruit basket too, but someone suggested I get one when I arrive at 桂兰’s brother’s apartment.
So the shopping was done. But how should I dress? Initially I planned to wear a long-sleeved shirt paired with blue jeans. Nothing ridiculously formal. But a little more formal than my usual apparel.
One slight problem though. We were taking a train to visit them. An overnighter with one transfer and then a short ride from Wuhan to Huanggang. Altogether a 12 hour trip.I wasn’t going to wear anything nice on the train. And I don’t think I was going to look or smell too good after the journey. So much for a good initial impression.
And so it happened as I feared. No time to change. And there we were standing in Huanggang station waiting for 桂兰’s brother to come. He came along with his very pregnant wife (due the next day). We stuffed the luggage in the trunk, entered the car, and went to their apartment.
When we arrived, her dad opened the door, smiled, and showed me where my room was. I said “Ni hao,” to the mom. She said something unintelligible and went to the kitchen to finish lunch.
Later on, we were making dumplings together. And 桂兰’s mom said she wouldn’t want to travel to America. Then she told me my jiaozi were sub-par, and I should just watch everyone else make them.
Apparently I had made an impression. But not exactly the one I hoped.