China Elevator Stories

On Staying At Your In-Laws' And Cultural Differences

I talk about my experience of staying at my in-laws’ with my husband and friends.


Ruth Silbermayr-Song


The first time I meet my in-laws in person is in the summer of 2013, when we visit them in my husband’s hometown Siping. We stay at their tiny old house during our visit. During our stay, my MIL does everything for me. She cooks, washes the dishes, makes the bed for us, cleans the room, heats up my Chinese medicine, washes our clothes and accompanies me anywhere I go. She holds my hand (well, actually it’s rather a grasping of my wrist), not only if we have to cross a street but also when we walk down a pedestrian-only street. I tell her that I can walk on my own, repeatedly, to no avail.

I’m not the only one who gets spoiled like a 3-year-old kid (now, even as a 3-year-old I couldn’t have possibly got spoiled like that, after all, I grew up in a big family with many brothers and sisters and had to do household chores from when I was little).

On the fourth day of our stay, my husband can’t bear it anymore. He tells her that she doesn’t have to treat us like little kids, that she doesn’t have to do everything for us. That we’re fine on our own (just like in Shenzhen, where we are doing everything on our own too). He explains that I’m not used to getting everything done by someone else. And that I prefer to walk to various places on my own.

When he tells me this, I ask him about her reaction. He tells me: “She said that I have finally grown up now.”

Later, when my husband and I are back in Shenzhen, two friends visit us from Switzerland. One is a male Chinese friend I met during my studies in Kunming, the other is his wife, a woman from Switzerland. 

We talk about our experiences of living with the in-laws. 

My Chinese friend tells me about his experience of living at his wife’s parents’ in Switzerland: “It was really weird for me. I had to help so much in the household. I had to help clean the dishes, clean the house, I even had to help in the garden. I saw that my wife’s father got up to do the dishes, so I got up too, I mean, in China you rarely see men doing the dishes, but I thought if this is common here, I have to help too. And my father-in-law was really happy about it. In China, if you’re the guest of someone, the host will try to make your stay as comfortable as possible. That’s why they do everything for you.” 

His wife adds: “If we had stayed there for only 3 days, you wouldn’t have had to help in the household either. But we basically lived there [over a period of a year], so that’s a completely different situation. Also, our parents had to bring us up all these years, so when we visit them now, we’ll try to help as much as we can.” 

My friend is surprised about her answer, and says: “In China, your parents will think that you’re probably exhausted from work, so they’ll do everything for you in order to make you feel comfortable.”

She tells me: “When I stay at my in-laws’ in China, my MIL will also do everything for me. I realised that there’s no sense in asking if she needs any help, she’ll definitely decline. But if I just go there, push her away and do those things on my own, I can sense that she’s really happy about it and that she appreciates my help.”

Have you ever thought that somebody did much more for you than you considered necessary?