For all the abundance of food and well-wishes that Chinese New Year holds, our relatives’ questions appear to rival in number. And for the few of us who have our lives figured out, the invasive questions will be a breeze. The rest of us, however, might struggle a little more. That being said, here are five solutions to this temporary problem.
1. BE NICE
This is the rule that overarches every solution. Your relatives mean no harm even if it seems like they do. Getting defensive never helps, and giving non-committal answers only spurs them to probe further (because really, we Asians love details). That, or you’ll come across as rude – and the repercussions for the latter are far worse. Smile (naturally!) as much as possible, politely interrupt their questions by offering them food or drinks. Which brings us to the next point.
It might seem impossible, especially when your relatives are everywhere, but trust us when we say it’s easier than you think. There are two ways to do this: Avoid answering, or avoid your relatives completely. We don’t mean keeping mum (read: point one) but rather, give a response that quashes their question but isn’t entirely an answer. It’s a fine line – and very difficult to tread – but mastering the art of question-dodging is a skillful one we probably shouldn’t endorse. Confused? Here’s an example: If your uncle asks about your career, simply answer with, “Is it a good time to explore opportunities? The economic outlook doesn’t seem great right now.” Cue the discussion on world economy. Constantly find ways to bring in other topics that lead to a back-and-forth without talking about yourself.
Alternatively, avoid them. It is precisely what it sounds like – running away is involved, but in a subtle and polite manner. Look for “outs”. If you’re worried about the ad-lib of it all, look no further than point number three.
Even if you think you’re alone in this fight, the fact is your cousins are confronting the same evil. And you know what they say about numbers and strength. (Hint: there is a direct correlation between them.) So what we say is team up. Band together and provide the “out” we mentioned in point two. See your sister struggling to provide an adequate answer about her career? Interrupt politely and tell her someone is looking for her, or interrupt with a related discussion topic, and trust her to do the same when it’s your turn to face the questions.
Sometimes, however, your comrades turn on you – that’s when you break out the big guns. Inspired by Sun Tzu’s “Art of War”, this is the perfect mix of entertain and evade (if we do say so ourselves). The overwhelming presence of your relatives isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you capitalise on it and, taking a page from Sun Tzu, turn it into their weakness. Distract them with other relatives. If you have a large family, this will be the perfect opportunity to get revenge on that cousin who tripped you when you were six. The insatiable curiosity of your aunt lends itself perfectly to follow-up questions. Direct her attention to the cousin who recently started dating, or to the nephew you caught sneaking into bars. For those of you with smaller families, don’t fret. Casually lean the conversation to friends who make a great discussion topic.
Alright, we confess: It is pretty conniving, but the great Sun Tzu did say “all warfare is based upon deception”.
5. THE TRUTH
If all else fails, there’s always option five: The truth. “I honestly haven’t given it much thought because I’m focusing on work” or laughing it off with a “I need to find someone who wants me first!” might not be the ideal answer to when you plan on settling down, but it is the most straightforward.
Whatever you choose to do, know that across the country, your peers are facing the same struggle. And if that brings you any comfort as you wolf down bak kwa in a bid to buy time to formulate the perfect answer for that one nosey uncle, then we’ve done our job. Godspeed, fellow comrades.