There are many things to look forward to during Chinese New Year (new clothes! Food! Hongbaos!), and yet, there are also some things that, frankly speaking, we know we’ll be gritting our teeth through in awkwardness. Sometimes, especially for folks with large families, the latter includes trying to interact with relatives you’ll inevitably be meeting during the first few days or so. It’s not that you hate them or that there’s bad blood between you, but the truth is, seeing someone just once a year (without keeping in touch the rest of the time) is akin to meeting a stranger annually.
However, things are not as dire as they seem, and you can easily take matters into your own hands and turn stiff situations into merry times by observing and sticking to these simple golden rules for getting through your family reunion visits:
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BE THE ONE TO TAKE INITIATIVE
If everyone is waiting for the other to say hi and strike up a conversation, then everyone will remain silent and tense the entire time. If you can just boldly take that first crucial step to ask a question or make a casual remark, then chances are others will be encouraged to respond and keep the dialogue going, which will eventually break the ice. Hey, someone has got to get the ball rolling, right? Might as well be you.
PUT AWAY YOUR PHONE
Yes, you read us correctly. Nothing screams “antisocial” louder than a pair of eyes (or an ear) perpetually glued to a four-inch screen, supposedly oblivious (or pretending to be) to the goings-on around them. Sure, scrolling through Instagram or beating level after level of your favourite mobile game may keep you occupied at first, but after a while, it will be time to give your little device a break and embark on the more sociably fulfilling act of joining the cousins at the mahjong table.
RESEARCH FOR A TALKING POINT
A lot of awkward, empty exchanges stem from the problem of not knowing what to talk about, especially with an older relative you seemingly have zero interests in common with. But thanks to the power of social media these days, you’re now privy to the knowledge of your great-uncle’s photography hobby, your teenage cousin’s crush on BIGBANG’s G-Dragon, and your aunt’s recent slew of baking experiments. With this new information in mind, you can go out there to confidently discuss about and bond over topics you know your chat mate will gladly open up about. Bonus points if you happen to be just as enthusiastic as they are on the subject.
STICK TO FOLKS YOU’RE COMFORTABLE WITH
The reality is, we won’t be able to click with every single relative, but if you hang around with enough of them, we’re sure you’ll find at least one you have the best chemistry with. Hang out with this person as much as you can (without being too clingy, of course) and you won’t need to worry about being the quiet wallflower during the whole festive season. And the best part is, they might be able to help you ease into interactions with other family members you felt a little awkward talking to at first.
PLAY ALONG AND JOKE AROUND NO MATTER WHAT
Nobody likes it when their nosy aunty verbally observes that they’ve put on weight, or when their grandma nags for the nth time about the fact that they’re still single/unmarried/childless/not parents to a soccer team (no matter which stage of life you’re at, some people will find something to nit-pick about), but unfortunately, there’s not a lot you can do about such remarks.
The solution? Fight it with wit, grace, and maybe a bit of pandering to them if you can find a way: “Mummy’s cooking is just as good as yours, Aunty, of course I will get fat lah!”, “Sorry, Popo, but my requirements for a boyfriend are very high because he will be your potential grandson-in-law. I’ll introduce him to you as soon as I find someone worthy, okay?”
JUST BE YOURSELF
It’s cliché to the point of being painful, but it works. When you’re being genuine in your interactions with everyone around you, you will gradually become more and more comfortable, and being comfortable means not being self-conscious, and not being self-conscious equals feeling good and actually being able to enjoy (instead of needing to endure) your family reunion celebrations.