Talk with Lia

Asian Parents

Impress Asian Parents (video)

So you’ve been dating someone you really like and feel it’s time to meet your SO’s, Asian parents. Maybe you’ve never dated an Asian person before. Meeting your significant other’s parents for the first time can be a daunting and anxiety-provoking event. However, meeting Asian parents is on a whole other level. You may think “this is just like any other parent right?” wrong. Yes there are basic things like shower and be polite but there are little nuances that you don’t know about that can win you some big points.  I’ve had so many cross-cultural couples in my therapy practice talk about how the cultural divide is so hard to navigate, especially when dealing with traditional Asian parents, whether Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Indian, or any other Asian ethnicity. However it doesn’t have to be all bad if you learn about the culture and prepare. And as an “outsider” if you can show some of these cultural graces, parents are likely to be impressed. Here are some tips to do this well: *Please note that I am not saying that all Asian parents are the same. I am making generalizations that may not apply to all families. Acculturation also plays a big part in how much families adhere to these cultural expectations. So when in doubt, check with your partner who knows her/his parents best! 

Tip #1: Let’s start easy: take off your shoes when entering the home.

Even if you need to go through the house to the backyard for a BBQ for example, take off your shoes, and carry them through the house to the back. 

Tip #2: Greet all family members, and be intentional about elders.

This is common sense for all cultures but for Asian cultures, this is especially important. Be intentional about greeting the elders if grandma is there and don’t wait until you cross paths. Seek them out. If you see that mom is in the kitchen in the back, make a special effort to go back and say hello. 

Tip #3:  ask if anyone needs help.

Work ethic is huge in the Asian family. So if you see mom in the kitchen cooking or dad in the backyard barbequeing or setting something up, ask if they need help. Do not sit around if you want to make a good first impression! Be intentional. The parents will notice, trust me. 

Tip #3: Bring gifts.

This is not a bribe. It is a gesture of gratitude for them inviting you to their home. Fruits are often the best bet. A box of oranges or a tray of Korean pears is a good way to go. Flowers, candles and other typical American gifts are nice but often seen as impractical and a waste of money. It will depend on the family so when in doubt, check with your SO about what to bring. 

Tip #4: Speak if spoken to first. Do not be too opinionated.

I know this sounds like weird advice but Asian cultures value not garnering attention and respect of elders. (And again I am generalizing– more acculturated families are less hierarchical and invite more two-way conversation.) However if you are in a more traditional Asian home, the best thing to do is be humble and be ready to answer questions and listen to the older people talk.  Be interested in what they have to say, ask questions and be polite (this can apply to any family!). Do not be highly opinionated even/especially if you disagree. This is not the time to be right and even if you are, they probably will take your differing opinions as a sign of disrespect.  On the other hand, if you have nothing to say and you are in doubt or feeling awkward, get busy helping out. Ask what you can do. And for God’s sake, do not go on your phone! I know it’s tempting and maybe it’s just my grumpy old self talking, but this is just rude, especially for the older generation.

Tip #5: Be ready to answer questions about financial stability and education.

If you are educated and financially secure then you have a lot less to worry about with parents. If you have a house then even better. (I know this is extremely rare in the San Jose/Bay Area so don’t sweat this one too much). If you are not in a high paying field or if you chose not to get a higher education, be prepared for some concern. I’m not saying it’s fair (it’s not my value), but for Asian families, especially those who immigrated here with nothing and slaved away in a restaurant or liquor store all day, they want to make sure their kids won’t have to do the same. So try to understand their point of view. Even communicating a plan of how you are saving for a house or how you are looking to get more training so you can be promoted or start your own business can ease parents’ anxiety Note:  if you are in a field you feel called to and you work hard at it– even if you don’t make a lot of money– don’t internalize their disapproval if they communicate it. It’s their value but it doesn’t have to be yours. 

Tip #6: After a meal, help with the cleaning and dishes.

Again, your actions will speak a thousand words. This will win the heart of your future parents. 

Tip #7: Do not show PDA (public displays of affection).

Most traditional Asian couples do not show PDA, not even hand-holding as it is seen as immodest. I know that there are small gestures that may seem endearing to American families like a stroke on the back or hand-holding, but if at all in doubt, show your love by doing things, not by physical affection. At least in front of the parents.

Tip #8: Learn some of the native languages and use it.

Even if your Vietnamese or your Chinese sucks, the parents will really appreciate the effort. Your SO’s parents– if they are immigrants– came here and had to learn a whole different language and in some ways had to give up their own. Someone who is willing to learn their native language speaks volumes. A simple greeting like “ni hao” takes 2 seconds to learn but will show interest and respect to their heritage that they will appreciate. This is very respectful to Asian Parents. Note: if parents speak English well, do not do this. Especially if they were born here. You will seem racist at worst and awkward at best. So make sure you check in with your SO first. 

Tip #9: During a meal:  do not eat first.

Always wait for the elders to eat before you begin, even if they insist.  Some families practice the younger serving the elder. So if grandma is sitting next to you, you would offer to put food on her plate or offer to pour tea. Take cues from others to see if this is something they do. 

Tip #10: When eating out, if you can afford it, offer to pay the check.

And if they fight you on it, you must fight back. Don’t say “oh ok, thanks for paying!” Continue insisting until they physically do something like run up to the counter to pay. 

Tip #11: If someone insults their food or anything about themselves, don’t ever agree.

For example your SO’s mom says “this chicken I made is too bland,” don’t say “aw it’s not that bad, it just needs some soy sauce” and then pour a bunch of soy sauce on the chicken and then say “wow, now it’s perfect.”  A better response would be “I love this chicken! It’s not bland at all” and eat it with a smile. 


Navigating a different culture can be an anxiety providing task, meeting Asian Parents for the first time is no different . Throw in the fact that these are people you may be calling “mom and dad” for the rest of your life can feel paralyzing. But it doesn’t have to be. If you understand the culture and what translates to love, care and respect, you can speak that language to win their heart. Hopefully the tips above helped you to speak their love language for a successful first time meeting!  Lia Huynh
Lia Huynh San Jose and Milpitas


My life’s work is helping individuals and couples get better. I help couples restore their sense of togetherness by rediscovering their strengths as individuals, and their collective strength as a duo. And I help my individual clients to negotiate the sources of depression and anxiety, while moving them gently toward feeling a deeper sense of connection with their world. This is all done through our counseling and therapy together. 


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