China Elevator Stories

A Loss Of Face

My father-in-law’s oldest brother tries to force me to raise my glass to him at a family dinner in Siping.


Ruth Silbermayr
Ruth Silbermayr


I feel uncomfortable with the way daye (大爷), my father-in-law’s oldest brother, treats me. It’s not just what he says, but also the way he says these things. He just let us know he doesn’t accept the validity of our marriage, because we didn’t marry in China. I don’t like it if everyone’s attention is on me. I feel embarrassed, angry and am fighting with tears. 

The whole table has gone quiet.

My husband tells his uncle, who is working as a civil servant: “Oh, come on, leave your office at the door. This is a family dinner, for god’s sake. We’re already legally married, we don’t care for your approval!”
His uncle answers: “These are our traditions and she should respect them.”
My husband says: “Well, you know, it’s not only her who should respect our traditions. We should also respect that she comes from a country with traditions that are different from ours.”

His uncle is still waiting for me to raise my glass to him. If only this was simply about raising my glass! According to Chinese tradition, I would have to raise my glass to him, and say: “Daye, I show you my respect (大爷, 我敬你).” I find this too humiliating, and am not willing to do this.

When daye sees that I’m still not moving, he tells his sister-in-law: “I’m in a bad mood.”
His sister-in-law tells him: “Just drop it. She doesn’t understand how this works.”

Finally, people start chatting again. This evening, I don’t raise my glass to my husband’s uncle. I’m not the only one. My husband and his cousin don’t raise their glasses either. So much for traditions. I can see that my husband’s uncle is in a frenzy. I’m still fighting with tears. Yes, maybe I made him lose face. But so did he.

Have you ever been in a similar situation?