Help me with ideas to make my Chinese relative feel comfortable on her first visit to the U.S.
June 30, 2012 11:41 AM   Subscribe

Help me with ideas to make my Chinese relative feel comfortable on her first visit to the U.S.

This is my baby grandson’s Chinese Grandma. She will arrive from Beijing next week and hasn’t seen her daughter (my daughter-in-law) for 3 years. The Chinese Grandma does not speak any English. I can speak a little Mandarin and hope I will learn more from her. She is in her early 60s and is a fun, outgoing person. She has a 6 month visa but my DIL is worried that her mom might become lonely or homesick too soon. The Chinese Grandma also has a 1 yr old granddaughter back home in China.

I’m looking for ways to ease the culture shock and just make her feel good! Maybe with familiar foods, creature comforts, gifts – I want to let her know how special she is. I know I can ask my DIL but she often is reluctant to give me ideas because I guess it is like she is asking for gifts. I think it might be nice to help the Chinese Grandma meet Mandarin speakers in her age group too. Not sure how to do that! We are in SF (East Bay area). Thanks for any suggestions!
posted by goodsearch to Human Relations (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Walking around San Francisco's Chinatown will yield a multitude of Chinese speakers, presumably some of whom will be your mother-in-law's age. I don't know, though, if they are Mandarin or Cantonese speakers?
posted by dfriedman at 11:47 AM on June 30, 2012

There are plenty of Asian grandmas in the area, so you just need to find an activity she'd like to attend and meet other Mandarin speakers. Look for Asian senior centers like this one or events at regular senior centers. Call up senior centers and ask if they have regular Mandarin participants. Many have tai chi and mah jong activities (though not necessarily Mandarin speakers!) if she enjoys those. Take her to 99 Ranch Market or other Asian stores and strip malls.
posted by girlhacker at 12:15 PM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

My best friend is Chinese, one thing she's always on the lookout for is cheap calling cards so she can telephone her family back home. My friend finds hers at the local Hispanic bodegas. Maybe you could find a few for your relative and present them to her as a way to keep in touch with her little grandchild back home.
posted by TooFewShoes at 12:20 PM on June 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

Whenever my in-laws visit, I line up a bunch of Chinese TV content, either live streams of news or shows. This way when they are home in the mornings or evenings, they don't feel so bored.

Ppstream is a great resource.
posted by wongcorgi at 12:28 PM on June 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

A lot of people in your co-granda's demographic really really appreciate having hot/boiling water available all the time. If you can get a constant-on hot water kettle, that may make your home feel a lot more like home.
posted by porpoise at 12:32 PM on June 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

Can you and OtherGrandma go on some kid-centric outings (picnics, puppet shows, playgrounds) with your mutual grandson? After all, even with limited language-overlap you'd probably communicate just fine, with the object of your mutual interest right there with you. (And your DIL might appreciate the break, too!)
posted by easily confused at 1:15 PM on June 30, 2012

seconding wongcorgi; my parents get chinese satellite tv/cable and they also have a radio that streams hong kong radio stations for themselves, but it's great for my grandma when she visits from hk.
posted by mlo at 2:28 PM on June 30, 2012

All good ideas! Can't wait to play with OtherGrandma!
posted by goodsearch at 3:36 PM on June 30, 2012

Pin DIL down and ask what is HKGrandma's favorite color, flower, tea, food, etc. No squirming out of it. Tell her as an elder it will be disrespectful for her not to answer you ;)

Knowing that will give you some ideas for small welcome gifts, etc.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:41 PM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm no expert, but isn't San Francisco's Chinatown mainly Cantonese-speaking? You might find more Mandarin-speaking communities down the peninsula.
posted by amusebuche at 7:59 PM on June 30, 2012

Depending on your daughter in law's mother's situation, she may really appreciate fresh fruit. Good groceries, especially fresh fruits, are bizarrely expensive in Beijing due to fears (sometimes justified) about pesticide contamination and outright adulteration. I've heard stories of cherries at 80RMB a pound and the equivalent of community-supported agriculture subscriptions at 10kRMB a year. These are obviously from the high end of the market, but they give you some idea of the scale. So offer her some fresh fruit. At best, it'll be a treat for her. At the very least, it will be a gesture of hospitality.

Incidentally, I don't know if you've picked this up already, but in China people often refuse a gift the first time it's offered. She will not be offended if you press the point. This is not considered to be dismissing her objections as much as demonstrating the sincerity of your offer.
posted by d. z. wang at 9:29 PM on June 30, 2012

I want to second's comment about how tricky different "good manners" can be. When my husband and I lived in Berkeley we invited a native Chinese couple over for a visit; her husband was at University and she worked in an office with me. We poured tea, and offered special treats. They refused, very politely. A little later, we offered again, again polite refusal. We felt awkward, evidently we'd presented something not to their living. The next day, at the office, the girl asked me, very softly, why we didn't offer the treats a third time, so that they could have some. They waited and waited, but we just sat there and ate them. Of course, in our culture, offering 3 times is being insensitive and too pushy. But we just didn't know......

That was a long time ago, and possibly the "3 times" rule has been streamlined to "2 times", but there's still bound to be some misunderstandings. Talking to you daughter-in-law is probably your best bet.

A similar situation used to be true in Argentina: when drinking matte in someone's home, the hostess would come around refilling the cups. When you say "thank you" that means it's your last cup, you don't want any more. Americans end up, clueless, with one cup, while watching everyone else swilling down cup after cup of tea.
posted by kestralwing at 12:18 AM on July 1, 2012

If she's a fun outgoing person and in her early 60s, then why not offer to take her out on mutually enjoyable excursions. That could do a lot to take care of the loneliness and homesickness. In my experience and among relatives and visitors, sightseeing trips (of often very touristy places that are "famous") are something Chinese people of her demographic enjoy with great enthusiasm. You could do this with the grandson too. Make sure to take lots of pictures.
posted by waterandrock at 7:16 AM on July 1, 2012

Can't believe it didn't occur to me - does OtherGrandma practice Tai Chi?

If so, try to hook her up with a local group (sorry, a brief google was contaminated with restaurants in San Fran named Tai Chi - here in Vancouver there are lots of impromptu local groups who might not have a website or even central organisation, but, for example meet at QE Park every day at 6am) - lots of people around her age and a regular excuse to get out of the house and get some exercise. Even if most people speak Cantonese (and San Fran Cantonese is already quite distinct from HK Cantonese), this kind of activity isn't totally reliant on a ton of language exchange.
posted by porpoise at 9:16 AM on July 1, 2012

waterandrock is right: take lots of pictures --- OtherGrandma will love to have them when she's back home. But besides snapshots, why not set also up an appointment for studio portraits with a professional photographer:
just Grandson;
OtherGrandma, Grandson, DIL and Grandson's dad;
OtherGrandma with Grandson and DIL;
Grandson and both parents;
and maybe both you and OtherGrandma with Grandson.
posted by easily confused at 11:53 AM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

offering 3 times is being insensitive and too pushy

I overheard a Russian friend of mine giving a newly-arrived friend of hers advice along the lines of "and if they offer you something, take it right away or you'll STARVE!"

Most of the Chinese in SF are Cantonese speakers, but I'm told that the nice neighborhood near 19th just barely in the Outer Richmond is sort of the Mandarin equivalent to the Cantonese neighborhood around Clement (in the Richmond).

I think the Mandarin v Cantonese aspect will be relevant as regards soap operas too, but honestly I don't know enough about it.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:16 PM on July 1, 2012

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