Meet the Family
Not just the parents. I am talking about the whole clan from uncles and aunts to cousins to nieces and nephews. Imagine meeting thirty members for the first time and you’re just an outcast trying to fit it. It’s quite a challenge. Are you there to crash their vacation time? Just because of your presence, some folks have to hold off their gossips. There are internal problems that could only share within the members. You’re not a member yet. You’re applying to become one. So what could you do?
After being introduced to everyone, you seek out for the ones that the committee had approved. They are the ones that understand what you’re going through since they had been in your situation before. There he is. The husband of one of the cousins and he’s from the south too. Everyone in the family is from the north and the only thing that you know about Ha Noi is the much-simpler-but-equally-delicious pho. So you start off with which part of the south he’s from and work your ways into the conversation.
Kids always help too, especially if you have your ways with them. They just come and play with you. Sometimes you just wish the rest are just kids. That way you don’t have to watch every move you make. Don’t drink that beer; they might think you’re an alcoholic. Don’t eat too much; they might think you eat too damn much. But you just can’t help yourself because food is just part of you. Don’t interrupt their conversations because you don’t know anything. Just listen and wait for the right time to throw in a punch line here and there. Everyone loves jokes, right? Believe it or not, the funny ones always help you ease your anxiety and break the bubble, particularly those at the top levels like the high-rank uncles.
If you stay overnight, don’t sleep too late. Get up early to meet the early birds. There are always those who get up around five or six in the morning. It’s the perfect time to meet some of the members one on one. Try to find something that you could talk about, like work. For instance, when you work at Vassar, the chances are they would know the college through their kids, and if you’re lucky one of their kids might have gone to Vassar. The first thing you would hear them say is, “What a beautiful campus.” You would proudly reply, “I agree.” Then follow up with something like, “What year did your son graduate?” He would response, “1997” and you can go on from there eating your favorite breakfast (banh bot loc), drinking French-style coffee, and making progress toward your goal.
Of course you still don’t know for sure what they really think of you, but at least you know you didn’t fuck up. You know how Vietnamese families are when it comes to critiquing the new members. If you think my music reviews are harsh, you wouldn’t stand a chance at passing the meeting-the-big-family test. But after all, it is you and your partner that make the final decision, not the family.