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Chinese New Year (CNY) is just around the corner, and out of the many traditions and things to do, a raucous dinner is a must for the family to get together and celebrate over a meal. These dinners can be quite the occasion, and aside from collecting some hard-won lai see (利是) packets, you will probably be meeting extended family that you only see once a year.
In order to prepare yourselves for the ordeal ahead without getting thrown off by the bizarre personalities that your extended family no doubt boasts, here is our rundown of the 10 types of people you will meet at Chinese New Year dinners.
A combination of “hungry” and ”angry,” this modern term is used to describe someone who is so hungry that they’ll start to get angry. And when you’re stuck in a room with them, be it at your uncle’s house or a private dining room in a banquet hall, their mewling will reach your ears regardless of where you’re positioned. Key phrases to look out for: “Why the food isn’t ready yet?”, “When will the food be ready?”, or “I’m starving; can we eat yet?” If you identify this person during your dinner, hurry up and find this person some food already!
More likely to be an auntie rather than an uncle, the nosy matchmaker comes off as warm, friendly, and mildly inquisitive for the first 10 minutes, but don’t be fooled. Once you slip into your comfort zone, she will shed her cover and drop bombs along the lines of, “I know someone with a son or daughter your age! Let me introduce you,” or “Have you found a job yet? What kind of job is it? Tell auntie how much are you earning.” And that’ll be a big nope from us—run, people, run!
Chinese New Year dinners are a time for all members of the family to get together and catch up on events that happened throughout the year. Because of that, there’s bound to be someone who takes advantage of this and overshares all of their “successes,” however tactless. You can’t help but roll your eyes when you hear, “My son got the best grades in his year!” or “My husband bought me this new designer bag,” or even, “I’m not saying your food is bad, but the food that I had at that celebrity chef’s restaurant was sooo good! We booked it five years in advance and then flew to Madagascar for it.” Best advice? Just smile and nod and hope they get whacked by the humble tree this new year.
There is bound to be one person who prefers being alone or feels too awkward to interact. If you notice this cousin sitting on their own off to the side of the room, try striking up a conversation with them and hopefully gain a new friend to get through the dinner with you! And if the awkward cousin is you, well, then... maybe bring a Nintendo Switch with you to pass the time.
Don’t get us wrong, kids are adorable, but when they are running around, throwing toys, and screaming at each other at the top of their lungs… Oh, Lord, you are testing our patience. And where are their parents? Busy at the mahjong table trying to rake in the big bucks.
Whether it’s the cousin who lives abroad and barely speaks Chinese or a relative’s foreign partner, well, there are two ways it can go. You might have on your hands a curious person who gets really immersed in Chinese New Year culture and spends the whole night pestering you about what everything means, but hey, at least they’re making an effort! Or they’ll boldly pride themselves in their ignorance and refuse to go along with the traditions, which earns them no brownie points.
It’s that one auntie or uncle whom you don’t know the name of and who, of course, doesn’t quite remember your name either. Once you mention your mother or father, they’ll go, “Oh! I held you when you were a baby, do you remember?” Yes, of course, we remember—we were only two weeks old! Prepare to repeat this conversation every year.
Come Chinese New Year, all of the dads in the family engage in an unspoken competition over dinner to see who can drink each other under the table. If you see them breaking out the red wine as well as the hardcore Chinese baijiu, it’s guaranteed that you’ll walk away at the end of the night trying to detangle yourself from a crowd of boisterous, singing uncles!
The downer of every party. This person will be complaining about everything, from getting up to greet the relatives (even though you get rewarded with lai see packets) to watching the Chinese New Year parade on television. Nothing will truly satisfy them except maybe going home and getting away from all the people mentioned above!
Just as there will always be someone who loathes CNY, there will be someone who is truly obsessed with the occasion. After all, it only comes once a year! Making an appearance covered in festive red from head to toe, you’ll find them dishing out lai see packets like there’s no tomorrow. If there’s a karaoke machine available at the dinner, you know who’s going to be busy belting out those Chinese New Year songs from dusk till dawn!