How to Tell if You Were Raised in a Chinese-American (or Canadian) Family

Photo from iStock

Photo from iStock

Read this hilarious post by LiAnne Yu and see how many of these signs you can identify with. I can identify with every one except #7 and 10.

17 signs you were raised in a Chinese-American family

1. You speak Chinglish fluently.

You and your parents have developed your own, unique language, made up of some parts English and some parts Chinese. Every Chinese-American family has their own version of Chinglish. Some of my family favorites: “I bought hen duo (a lot) of your favorite snacks.” “It’s too mafan (troublesome).” And: “That’s so diu lian (humiliating).” When you were younger you felt embarrassed to speak Chinglish in public, but now that you’re older, you cherish having such an intimate language that you share with only a few other people in the world. 

2. You appreciate your Tiger Mom now that you’re older.

For you, the Tiger Mom is neither myth nor satire. Got an A- in your super hard Physics class? Too much TV. Can’t master that piano concerto at the age of eight? Practice more. Not as good as your math whiz cousin who got into MIT at the age of 13? No more video games. Play was considered a four letter word when you were growing up. While this may have made for a stressful childhood, once you were out in the world on your own, you appreciated the discipline your Tiger Mom taught you. But she still hassles you on the phone, no matter how old you are.

3. There’s a collection of really tacky gold jewelry waiting for you once you get married.

Your Chinese parents may be completely Americanized otherwise, but one cultural habit from the old country they can’t let go of is collecting gold jewelry for their daughters’ weddings. We’re not talking tasteful, subtle, delicate pieces. We’re talking blingy, 24K pieces with dragon and flower motifs and big-ass rubies. We’re talking the kind of jewelry that doesn’t go with anything. Except the super uncomfortable red qipao dress with gold embroidery that you’re not looking forward to wearing at your Big Fat Chinese Wedding banquet.

4. Weekend brunch means dim sum.

While your American friends had bacon, eggs, and pancakes for weekend brunch, you went out for dim sum. The phrase means “little hearts” in Cantonese, and consists of tapas-like portions on small plates. In traditional dim sum restaurants, the dishes are pushed around on carts for customers to look and choose while seated at their tables. Dim sum favorites like har gow (steamed shrimp dumplings), siu mai (pork dumplings), char siu bao (barbeque pork-stuffed buns), and lo baak gou (turnip cake) are best washed down with strong Chinese tea. If you don’t live near good Chinese food nowadays, you are craving this stuff like crazy.

5. You’re programmed to fight for the check at restaurants.

Your Chinese parents have taught you that there’s no such thing as going Dutch — when you go out to eat with others, you must always fight for the check. And this fight is no gentle affair. Tiger Moms, in particular, will crawl over the table, push, shove, and scream at the waiter in order to snatch the check away. You’re also skilled in all the stealth tactics — like slipping the waitress your credit card before the meal begins. Check out this video if you need a refresher on check-fighting skills.

6. Unless you’re a doctor, accountant, or pharmacist, your parents don’t really get what you do for a living.

Chinese parents want their American-born kids to have a better life than what they experienced. They don’t want their kids to struggle for money. So they over-emphasize certain careers, and can’t understand why their kid would waste an American education to become a food-truck owner, photographer, or, worst of all, travel writer. Chinese dads typically just give you the silent guilt trip, and defer to Tiger Moms to chew you out about your wasteful life choices.

7. You have an expensive piano in your family home — one that your parents really couldn’t afford.

Like other Chinese-American kids, you grew up playing and hating the piano. Ever hopeful that you’d become a famous classical pianist (while also practicing medicine), your Chinese parents insisted on buying the best piano in the store. When you look at the dusty, unused piano today taking up half of your living room, you remember how your parents drove the same Toyota Corolla for two decades so you could always have the best of everything.

8. You get red envelopes full of cash every Chinese new year.

So long as you stay unmarried, you get a cash gift in a red envelope every year as part of the Chinese new year tradition. Even if you’re 40 years old, you’re still considered a kid until you get hitched. Once you get married , you’ve got to start doing the giving. But until then, mommy and daddy gotta pay up.

9. You spent your summers bussing tables.

It’s one of those stereotypes based on fact — many Chinese immigrants do work in the restaurant or laundry businesses. You know you grew up in a Chinese-American family if you’ve ever had to spend your summer vacation wiping down tables or taking orders for chow fun and sweet-and-sour chicken.

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Which signs do you identify with?

2 thoughts on “How to Tell if You Were Raised in a Chinese-American (or Canadian) Family

  1. My friend is Chinese-American and I’m always fascinated when she shares peeks into her childhood. Just as I am with this post. 🙂 I love learning about other cultures. The only claim I can make is showering at night. But for me, it doesn’t mean I’m Chinese; just that I have long hair that takes forever to dry.

    • I’m always learning something new about the Chinese culture, for instance, I never thought that showering at night was a Chinese thing. One thing I’ve learned when discussing cultural difference with friends, is that we’re more alike than not.

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