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Cher, Relationship Enthusiast
Category: Relationship
Satisfied Customers: 21445
Experience:  Extensive experience as Educator/Teacher, M.A., Counselor, Spouse, Parent, Psychic Advisor
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My boyfriend and his family are Vietnamese and I am white.

Resolved Question:

My boyfriend and his family are Vietnamese and I am white. I'm trying really hard to understand their culture, but when my boyfriend and I are having dinner at his parent's house they often only speak in Vietnamese (though they do know some English). This is fine, but I'm finding it very hard to connect with his parents, especially when I'm struggling a lot already with the culture change. I often just sit there and feel left out because I can't understand what they are saying and I have even upset his mother because she has asked me to do something in Viet and no one translated it to English; I didn't know she had even been talking to me. I am not skilled in learning other languages; how else can I connect to his parents? Family is very important to him, and I am struggling a lot with this issue. I want to show him I can get along with his family, but they rarely try to speak English when I'm around and never explain cultural differences until I offend someone.
Submitted: 8 years ago.
Category: Relationship
Expert:  Cher replied 8 years ago.

I think it's basically up to your boyfriend to translate for you and for his parents, and make sure that you feel comfortable in his parents' home, even though you don't speak the language and the culture is foreign to you. You can't be expected to know what his mother is saying, if she knows you don't understand the language, and she doesn't ask her son to translate what she was asking you to do, in that particular past incident.

If his parents do speak and understand a little English, they should try to communicate with you, more, in your language. Tell your boyfriend that it's important to you that you are able to communicate with his parents and get to know them better, in addition to allowing them to get to know YOU better, and you would appreciate it if he would always be available to translate, when you're at his parent's house. Also, ask him to give you the heads-up on the cultural differences, so you don't do anything which may be offensive, by accident. Once you know the 'rules', you should feel much more comfortable in their home, but you definitely need your boyfriend to help you with this.

Even though you mentioned that you don't catch on well, with foreign languages, if you make the effort to learn a few simple, everyday phrases in Vietnamese, this will impress his parents and show them that you feel strongly enough for their son, to make this effort. You can also learn the names of different foods they serve, when you're at their house, and simple hello/goodbye/how are you? greetings. Don't be afraid to express yourself in English and use a little sign language (act out what you're trying to say--like Charades), too. That never fails to get the point across, in any culture. Offer to help them learn more English; you'll learn some of their words, and they'll learn some of yours.

I hope some of my suggestions prove helpful and things improve, soon.

Customer: replied 8 years ago.
I've tried to talk to him about it, but he has a tendency to take it really personally. He starts defending his mom like I'm making attacks on her personality (which I've tried to explain that I'm not). Also they know English (its just hard to understand) and I think his mom would be really offended if I offered to help her. I've tried to talk to my boyfriend about the differences that I've noticed between his culture and mine, but rather than talking to me about it he just says, "Well, thats how we are," as if I'm criticizing him/his family. He made it really clear that family is extremely important to him and that he couldn't be with someone who couldn't get along with them. We've been dating for four years, but it was long distance until just a few months ago and I never had to worry about it. I had a bad start going in because they didn't approve of us dating when I didn't live near him, and now that we live together his mom calls me a "son theif" (according to his brother who translated it for me). I really really don't want our relationship to be bad or even end because of this, but its almost impossible to talk about with him without making him depressed because he doesn't know what to do or feel like he has to defend them. How do I bring it up with him/them without being offensive?
Expert:  Cher replied 8 years ago.
Hello again, and thanks for your reply with additional information. I wasn't online when you responded.

It's important to make him understand that you are not trying 'change' him or take him away from his family or his culture, but, since you know very little about Vietnamese culture, customs and language, HE is the only one you can turn to for advice, in that area. You don't want to do anything wrong, or offend, so HE has to 'school' you in the most appropriate ways to relate to his parents and what is expected of you when you are in their home. Tell him that you are not attacking his parents or his culture, so there's no need to 'defend' anyone; you just need him to give you the heads up on certain important things, so you don't make a faux pas when in his parents' home.

If his mom is calling you a 'son thief', I understand that you're starting out behind the eight ball, to begin with, and that's difficult. Agree with him that family is important, and you feel the same way about your family, but it would be helpful if he would respectfully XXXXX XXXXX his parents about how he feels about you, and that it would be nice if they let up on you a little and get to know you for the wonderful person you are.

Look for a book on Vietnamese culture/customs in the library or bookstore and educate yourself on what to do and what not to do when you're with his parents. Also, try not go to to his parents' house so often. If he wants to visit them, you don't have to go every time. You don't want him or his parents to think that you're avoiding them, but, tell him it's important for him to go alone sometimes, so they can discuss things they might feel uncomfortable discussing with you there.

His parents are upset, in general, that he's dating you/living with you, because you're not Vietnamese, but if he feels strongly about you, it's up to him to convince them that he loves(?) you and it's important that they accept you and his relationship with you.

He shouldn't have to choose between his family and you, and you're not asking him to do that, so make it perfectly clear that is NOT what you're discussing with him. You're only asking that he guide you and help you understand more about his culture, then things will come more easily to you when you're in the presence of his parents.

Do your best, XXXXX XXXXX you can do, and I hope things go well.

Cher and other Relationship Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 8 years ago.
Thank you so much! I'll definitely give that a try. I can't believe I never thought of checking out the bookstore... (duh!). Also, no worries about not being online. I've been waiting for an answer to another question for days, and I'm not sure that I'll ever get one.
Expert:  Cher replied 8 years ago.
You're most welcome! Thanks very much for your reply and your accept.

I'm sorry your other question has not yet been answered, but you can write to Customer Service at:[email protected] to inquire about that.

I hope things improve soon, for you!

Cher (please do NOT click 'accept' again)