Today I am mostly talking to the single expat gentlemen reading. I’ll share some insights and tips that I and many of my friends have faced while in China about being invited to a girl’s hometown in China. While meeting the parents in any culture is a big deal, I would say in China it is an even bigger one. And you need to be prepared for this event.
You most likely are dating this girl — it could be as few as one date — and she may invite you to visit her hometown. This is an honor, and you should feel good about it. She is interested in you and wants you to meet her family and see where she grew up.
But as a foreigner in China, obviously you will stick out, and depending on where her hometown is, you may be more of a sight. Many smaller cities still have not had a foreigner visit … ever. We all came to China for adventures such as this, but it is also important to note the other implications of what this can mean.
If asked, don’t give a direct yes or no right away. It is something you should think about. Even if you do want to quickly refuse, that may be too harsh on the girl, so best to give it some time.
Pressure on Chinese Girls to Get Married
Women in China have a huge pressure to get married and have kids before they are 25 years old. I imagine this is from the long history in China, and I believe in the West we had this mindset as recently as a hundred years ago. While I believe it is becoming less and less of a “thing” in China, it is still very real. Parents and grandparents are constantly pushing the girl for updates on if she has a boyfriend, if they are getting married soon, what their plans for family are.
This is a constant discussion during regular phone calls, QQ chats, WeChat conversations, and, of course, when the girl returns to the hometown for the Chinese New Year holiday. During this holiday, if they come home without a boyfriend the family and probably the gossip around town is that the girl is still single and getting older; when will she get married?
And you then imagine what the parents of the daughter are feeling, especially the mother. I picture the mom at an evening dancing session (you’ll see groups of women dancing in the streets throughout China) and her friends asking for updates on her daughter and marriage and babies. Or there’s the discussion when one of her friends’ daughters gets married and is celebrating with the other moms on mahjong night.
This I am sure still exists in Western culture, but it’s not as strong as in Chinese culture.
Services for Renting a Boyfriend for Chinese New Year
There have been some funny services in China where the girl can rent a boyfriend to take with her to her hometown for Chinese New Year. This way she can “report” back to her family that she has a man with her and is potentially getting married, or at least closer to doing so.
Now this is totally G-rated; the man and woman do not get intimate. The sole purpose is that the girl has a male counterpart to bring with her to her hometown and family. That may sound totally insane, but I think this may give you some perspective if you’re reading this contemplating going to a girl’s hometown for Chinese New Year after just recently meeting. Maybe she is just trying to save on that fee to rent a man!
Understand the Various Chinese Family Generations
You also need to understand the different generations in China — this helped me a lot. The grandparents went through Mao times and are very traditional and have a “basic instincts” mentality, such as having food, housing, and a family. Chinese parents are a bit more modern, but because their parents are so traditional and “basic,” the pressure still has been pushed down to them — the parents of the girl asking you to go to her hometown.
I think generally the men and women in China now in their 20s and 30s are in a tough spot; they want to be modern but at the same time they are balancing the traditional pressures of their parents and grandparents back in their hometowns. She probably grew up with the modern age of internet and television, along with its Western influence of cultural openness and values, and this may be why she is interested in you as a foreigner (Westerner) in the first place!
So the tricky part for you as the Western man invited to her hometown is you may not know the girl’s true intention for inviting you. Was it to fulfill her “duty” as a daughter or granddaughter to bring a boyfriend home and avoid the family pressure and long lectures and discussions about why she still doesn’t have a boyfriend and isn’t serious about marriage and a family. Or, was it instead that she really does expect to impress you and convince you to get more serious with her.
At the very least, be aware of these different generations in the Chinese family. And if you are in her hometown, be respectful to them and keep these thoughts they have in the back of your mind.
Some Potential Implications If You Go to the Hometown
Say you agree to go, and want to take the trip as an adventure to see a new part of China but aren’t too serious about the girl. Fair enough. Maybe you will get to know her more and get more interested from the trip. But you also need to keep in mind the repercussions of this.
I had been warned back in 2008 when I was considering going to a girl’s hometown that if I wasn’t serious about it, and that I didn’t move towards marriage, then the girl and her family would “lose face” with the rest of the town or village, especially if she brings a Western man!
Obviously you will stick out if this is a small town or village and may be the first foreigner they have seen. For you it may not be a big deal not to take the relationship to the next level, but for quite some time going forward the neighbors and family members will ask the girl and her immediate family members what the status is with the foreigner.
This is true not only for a Western man visiting, even a local Chinese man visiting. The “assumption” in the traditional culture is that the woman is being courted and the man is asking her family for their permission and approval. So imagine if a man came to the family and asked if he could marry their daughter, only to drop it and call it off in the near future.
In China, there is a lot of unspoken traditional meaning, and that is what even Chinese, but especially Westerners, complain about when mentioning the indirectness of Chinese. You need to understand things that are not visible to the human eye, but instead baked into culture and previous conversations. This is often why a lot of Chinese will not even try to explain certain situations to us, it is so complex with layer upon layer of culture and history.
It Depends Which Province You’re Going to
China is a massive country, and Westerners always get confused and just want to say “China,” but there are considerable differences in people and cultures in the various provinces. I won’t even attempt to break them down here, because I don’t know each that well and also it would take up a tremendous amount of space.
The main point here is that you need to check into the culture of that province, and see how traditional that province is. An easier way to think about it is if that province has a major Chinese city in it, and would it be considered a “modern” city. Sure, the town the girl may live in may not be that advanced and modern, but it is a starting point.
I’d ask a local Chinese person that I know, preferably one from that province, but if you’re not able to then any advice is better than going it on the fly. This person will give you some insights, or at least connect you with another Chinese person from that province who has more experience there.
But that is what makes China so fascinating, there are so many cultures, dialects, and foods throughout the country you will almost always have opportunities to learn and explore new areas.
…As Well as City, Town, or Village
This is true in any culture, but is her hometown a village in the farm country, or in a town, or in a major city? Just like anywhere in the world, those in the rural areas are normally a bit more traditional (hope I don’t offend anyone), while those who live and grow up in a city are more open minded and modern with today’s society and culture.
Therefore, if you can find out which city you will go to, not just a province or the major airport you are flying into, it will be extremely helpful. Check out that city in Google Maps, see how far it is from the nearest major city. Is it in Wikipedia? What is some of the history of the town?
And like above, asking a Chinese person for information, knowing both the city and province, will help to pinpoint what you should expect when you visit her hometown and family. And regardless, if you decide to go you’ll be much more educated about the city and what to expect. This will help a lot with showing the family and neighbors you are a considerate and respectful human being.
Points for you!
What Will You Do In Her Hometown?
So you also may be wondering what is going to happen if you do go with her to the hometown for Chinese New Year. Well, most likely you will be the center of attention when you’re there. I am sure the family and friends will be so excited to meet you, and you’ll be smiling and shaking hands a lot when you arrive.
I am going to make the assumption that your Chinese language skills aren’t so good, so bear that in mind here. But the activities are similar whether you can speak or not. You are going to eat a lot! Similar to almost any culture, holidays and family is centered around the dining table, and you’ll need to spend your time sitting there and trying all the various foods and drinks. A lot of toasts with the family; you may get pushed into drinking. I had my wife shield me from that, but I guess it depends on your specific situation.
For going out, I took a lot of walks around town after meals and did some shopping. We discussed places in the town and where she went to school; it was a bit of fun to go down memory lane with her.
You’ll also visit other family members’ houses in the area, and eat and drink more. Depending on how big the family is, and how many of them are still in the hometown, this can be a lot of visits!
We had some fun time to go to a local amusement park, and I have to say I was a bit nervous about the safety of some of the rides. I got to know her brother and sister, who had more things in common with me than the parents and older members of the family.
But for the most part, you will spend time eating and drinking with family in various people’s houses.
My Experiences Going to My Wife’s Hometown
I went to my wife’s (at the time girlfriend) hometown in Dongbei (Northeastern part of China) a couple years ago. I had already been in China for about six years but had never done the hometown trip with a girlfriend before, so I was nervous on what to expect. I asked her as many questions about the family and traditions as I could. I also wasn’t interested in getting totally drunk off baijiu (Chinese moonshine alcohol), and she informed the family that I don’t drink it, so I was able to stick to beer.
I wasn’t as nervous because I was planning to marry her, and we were looking into the process. I just didn’t expect the whole family to be so supportive and behind it. It was like a family trip to get the task done, and we shared taxis together to the US embassy and the Chinese marriage license department over a few days.
If I wasn’t serious about her, I am not sure how this would have gone down with the family — or maybe she wouldn’t have invited me at all. But when I got there, the family embraced me as one of their own and was very accommodating and friendly. Backing out after that would have been very difficult in my mind, and, therefore, I would advise men who are serious to go to the hometown, and not do it as an experience for fun.
Conclusion on Going to the Chinese Girl’s Hometown
Based on my experiences, I would advise guys who are asked to go to the girl’s hometown to take it very seriously. I even think this is somewhat serious in the USA too — makes me think of the famous movie 999 “Meet the Parents.” He had a lot more to prove than I did; luckily for me it was not a challenge to convince my wife’s family.
I’d love to have people share their experiences and questions in the comments below. I’ll try to update the article as I learn more and get corrected from friends and family. Hope my wife doesn’t get offended by this!
Photos and editing by Matt Lubin of BoozeFoodTravel.com