Meeting the in-laws is one of those monumental steps for any relationship. If all goes well, months later, you can start cracking jokes at their expense to your significant other. If things doesn’t go well… you know what happens.
Your goal as the “girlfriend” or “boyfriend” is to trick your future (or current) in-laws into liking you. Fight dirty – do whatever you can so they end up gushing to your significant other about how much they love his/her partner [you].
I’m sure it’s different for everyone. Spending time with your Chinese in-laws is much more different than with your Japanese in-laws…
But in any case, I think some things are the same. Here are my 5 tips for dealing with your (Japanese) in-laws.
1. Read up (and research) the culture before you arrive
Think of meeting/staying with the in-laws like a job interview. Question your significant other about their parents. What are their likes? What are their dislikes?
If you are going to spend the afternoon or the night at your future (or current) in-laws house, make sure to read up on the culture before you arrive (this isn’t just for Japanese in-laws, this can be any nationality).
Should you wear shoes in-doors? What about socks? Is being barefoot, wearing slippers considered rude?
If you have any food allergies or preferences, make sure your in-laws know well ahead of time. If you don’t like a specific vegetable, if you are vegetarian, or if you have a very small appetite, make sure everyone know that ahead of time.
2. Compliment everything.
Some of my favorites that I like to keep in my “sucking up to the in-laws” arsenal are:
“You have such a lovely house.”
“Wow, this tastes so delicious. You could be a professional chef.”
“It is so peaceful and comfortable here. The countryside is the best (only applies if they live out in the middle of nowhere)”
“Thank you for always treating me so wonderfully.”
You get the picture. Compliment and compliment often. However, people can pick up an insincere compliment from a mile away… so try to find things you genuinely like to compliment.
3. Keep your hands (and your opinions) to yourself
Trust me, you would much rather be labeled a “quite pushover” than a “bossy, rude” foreigner.
And if you’ve spent any time on the internet, you know that foreigners (doesn’t even matter where you’re from) have a bad reputation. It’s so easy to draw conclusions and look for stereotypes (that don’t even exist)… don’t give your future in-laws any excuse to disapprove of your relationship.
If you’re from a non-Asian country, make an extra effort to keep your hands to yourself. I will still hold hands and hug at my in-laws house, but my husband’s lips aren’t allowed anywhere near mine. American girls have a pretty nasty reputation that I don’t want to reinforce.
Along those lines, stay on your best behavior. Even though I firmly believe that arguments are an essential part of any healthy relationship (and they provide a great way to broaden your horizons and re-evaluate your priorities), I would never EVER start (on continue) and argument in front of my in-laws.
Lastly, keep it simple. If they ask for your honest opinion about anything (however unlikely) for the love of God, don’t give them your honest opinion!
4. Don’t complain about anything
This one is pretty self-explanatory and expected. Even if you’re tired, cold, and hungry, don’t let the in-laws know.
You can always pull your significant other off to the side and tell them you’re not doing so good. They can make some sort of excuse/request to their parents, saving your “face” and protecting your image.
5. Pretend to be interested in the same things
I go gardening with my father-in-law every time I visit. I don’t particularly enjoy gardening, but my father-in-low loves it. He loves introducing my husband and I to his old gardening friends and he loves talking about how tall his plants are growing. Sometimes when we call the house for our weekly phone chats, he talks about what vegetables are in season.
That’s his “thing.”
He likes me because I show interest in his “thing.”
Everyone has some “thing” they love; find it, become interested in it, and the in-laws will love you.
Grace Buchele Mineta is a native Texan, founder of the blog “Texan in Tokyo,” and author of the autobiographical comic book, “My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy.” She lives in Tokyo with her husband, Ryosuke, where she blogs and draws comics about their daily life.
“My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy: The Comic Book” is the autobiographical misadventures of a native Texan freelancer and her Japanese “salaryman” husband – in comic book form. From earthquakes and crowded trains, to hilarious cultural faux pas, this comic explores the joys of living and working abroad, intercultural marriages, and trying to make a decent pot roast on Thanksgiving.