There are delightful tea ceremonies in many cultures. There’s the British afternoon tea, paired with finger sandwiches and scones. There’s India’s chai tea, sold on every corner by chaiwallahs with the latest gossip. Russians invite friends into their homes for a brew called zavaka, traditionally served in samovars. Japan’s elaborate Tea Ceremony is famous for its green tea and tranquility.
And then there’s the Chinese Daughter-in-Law Tea Ceremony, which is none of those things. It’s all about putting an incoming bride in her place in the household hierarchy.
FYI, her place is at the bottom.
I did not even know there was such a ceremony until I was in the thick of it, instructed to serve –but not drink!—tea from an ancient, lead pot with my new, Chinese-American in-laws.
In exchange for practicing my position as an unpaid servant, I received Chinese “lucky money” in a red envelope from both my mother-in-law and her mother. My husband Andy thought this was a good trade, since we lived 3,000 miles from his family and I couldn’t actually be expected to serve them on a regular basis.
So of course they came to visit us. More than once. And yes, they definitely expected to be waited on. No, I couldn’t just leave them to fend for themselves; the one time I tried, they nearly burnt down the house.
They required a servant and supervision.
I gnashed my teeth and bided my time. Andy had a younger brother, Denny. When Denny finally got engaged, I rejoiced. His bride would also have to go through the Daughter-in-Law Tea Ceremony. Now SHE would be at the bottom of the pecking order.
“So she’ll have to wait on me, right?” I asked Andy on our flight to Oahu. Denny’s fiancée was Taiwanese-American from Los Angeles. Unlike me, she leapt at the chance for a wedding in Hawaii. My mother-in-law Sunny was handling all the details.
“I’d like to order Denny’s Bride to entertain Baby D for a few hours so I can get a nap,” I said dreamily. “Or maybe I can send her to Starbucks or something.” Baby D was four months old and down to one half-hour nap a day. If people weren’t constantly interacting and entertaining him, he protested. Angrily. Loudly. Incessantly.
“Well, Denny’s Bride should get us Starbucks at least twice, considering how much money they’re getting as a wedding present,” Andy grumbled. “And it’s not like Denny gave US a wedding present. Didn’t we fly him to New Hampshire and pay for his tux and hotel?”
“Yep. And he ran up the open bar tab. I’m not sure which part was the most expensive.”
“The bar tab,” Andy muttered darkly. “Definitely the bar tab.”
We arrived in Oahu a week before the wedding. We planned on having a little vacation while showing off the number one son of the number one son.
Sunny and Jay cooed over their giant grandson and his mighty thighs. Popo did as well.
And then they put us to work.
When I wasn’t nursing, burping, or keeping Baby D entertained, I stuffed favors into boxes and mesh bags or folded programs.
Andy helped his father with air malfunctioning conditioning units, landscaping, gardening, and other home improvement projects that needed to be finished before other guests arrived.
Baby D’s grandparents took us out for Dim Sum a few times, but not once did they offer to babysit so we could go out alone.
Instead, Sunny would sneak in when Baby D was napping and say, “Uh-oh, baby pulled his blanket over his face a little bit, maybe he can’t breathe?”
I’d whisper, “He does that sometimes. He’s fine. Don’t touch it, he’ll wake up.”
“Maybe I move it just a little—”
Too late. “WAAAAH!”
Denny and his bride finally arrived. The Daughter-in-law Tea Ceremony did not.
“Ask your mom when they’re having the ceremony,” I badgered Andy.
“She’s busy,” Andy responded. “I don’t want to bother her.”
“You mean you’re hoping they forget so you don’t have to give your brother another red envelope.”
I gave up on my husband. The day of the wedding, I cornered Sunny in the church and asked when and where we were having the Daughter-in-law Tea Ceremony.
Sunny waved a dismissive hand. “Oh, we’re not doing that this time.”
“But—what? But—why?” I sputtered.
Sunny mumbled something and hurried away. I never did find out why Denny’s Bride didn’t have to serve us all tea.
Maybe my in-laws, like my husband, felt they’d spent enough money on Denny.
Maybe Popo was content with one Daughter-in-Law Tea Ceremony.
Maybe they all realized risking lead poisoning wasn’t worth it.
Or maybe they only hauled out this archaic tradition to force potentially rebellious daughter-in-laws knuckle under.
Maybe they realized it didn’t work.
18 thoughts on “Daughter-in-Law Tea Ceremony, Part II (#258)”
Baby D should get great treatment being male and all. You were just the truck that delivered him. Kind of like FexEx. 🙂 Hope the rest of the wedding was fun at least sometimes.
Sadly, it was not. Baby D had a good time pulling the hair of all of his aunties, but It’s never easy to manage weddings when nursing. At least I had an excuse to duck out of the interminable slideshow reviewing the entire life story of the bride and groom. (Twice. I told you it was interminable.)
Poor thing! Even 40 years ago my late great grand aunt never forced tea ceremony upon her English daughter-in-law. The uncle that married a White foreigner is the eldest in the family too. My late great grand aunt had 7 kids so the 2 that migrated to England didn’t really matter to her. She still had 5 that did very well in life so they took good care of her until her last breath.
It’s weird that your in-laws nearly burnt down your house while they could function perfectly well on their own back in Hawaii. Are they having depression because being forgetful is one of the symptom in elderly people? If it’s me, I’ll just let them burn down the house then claim insurance later. Make sure to insure the house heavily every time they visit.
Actually, I find it pretty strange that a capable person like yourself chose to marry into such a traditional Chinese family. Is there a lack of eligible White male in America? Also, you need to consult Korean-American women when looking for a Chinese husband. For some reason, they always get the cream of the crop. Those that will surprise them with expensive vacations, Birkin bags and Cartier bracelets. Felt like I’ve lived my life in vain dating losers all these years 😛
Well, I didn’t realize Andy’s parents were so traditional until after we’d been together for almost a year. And by then it was too late!
I think it depends on what you’re looking for when you get married. I was never about the bling, but damn, I was sure tired of entitled white assholes.
My in-laws have caused me no small amount of stress, but I would marry Andy again in heartbeat. You don’t find intelligent, hot men who can cook, dance, are handy around the house, hands on fathers, and make decent money on prep school lacrosse fields. That’s where you find your Brett Kavannaughs.
My advice to young American women?
Look for the son of immigrants who was promised nothing and had to work hard for everything.
This just proves ‘tradition’ is malleable for perceived needs, and only works on polite, non-confrontational(at the time) people. Thankfully I didn’t have to deal with that kind of tradition within my own family. I have enjoyed the secondhand success stories of a fellow ‘son of immigrants’ being one myself. Cheers to your blog!
Thank you! And you are so right about tradition .
Lol… The 2019 college admission scandal is much more interesting with diversified portfolios
Is it true that Southern belles are traditionally expected to pay for their own wedding? Would you think very differently about marriage if you were raised in the South? How accepting are you, a German-American in regards to splitting the bills on first dates? Thanks in advance!
The bride’s family does traditionally pay for the wedding. My college roommate’s family, from a small town in North Carolina, certainly did. (She also had about a thousand wedding showers thrown for her and one was even a “Coca-cola” themed shower.) Maybe it is still expected in some old school families, especially where the bride is too young to afford a wedding on her own.
I was raised in the south for several years and I also read a ton of romance novels. But I guess some of those traditions didn’t take.
I was the queen of either splitting the bill or just paying for the first date outright, especially if the date was my idea. I never expected that the man would automatically pay. Plus, I never wanted him to even think he was owed any physical contact because he spent money on me.
Ohhh… The bride is really well loved to receive so many wedding showers. Soaking in a tub filled with Coca-cola sounds kinky (kidding!) 😛 This tradition is a lot like in India where the bride is expected to pay hefty dowry sometimes in the form of a house, a car, wedding parties, gifts and cash to the bridegroom. Now I understand the reason some men felt so entitled. If parents settle their college tuition and brides take care of weddings, basically they don’t have to shoulder much responsibilities.
Wow, you’re really forward to think that way about splitting the bill on first dates. Many women might disagree but that’s very savvy. I hope America will have a female President soon. The US Ambassador to Malaysia is a woman and she’s doing a great job.
Traditions seem so ironclad until real people and real circumstances get involved.
I had nothing against marrying a white boy, but when the time came, I married an immigrant, and that worked out fine for me.
Oh boy, prior to the whole lawyer mess, I remember how insistent baby’s daddy and his mom and sis were on the tea ceremony. My family agreed to it, but also added in a bunch of deserts ( my heritage is Russian Jewish) afterwards we went out to a restaurant for the meal. I was supposed to get a red envelope with BENJAMIN Franklin as well as Zachary, but baby daddy kept both of them. I did end up with some symbolic jewelry and bracelets? And no, I won’t give them back…
Can you pawn them? I made Andy take back the necklace they gave me for cash.
Archaic tradition, indeed. It all comes back to the belief that women leave their family and are now part of the husband’s family only.
So you wanted them to do it for your sister in law too, instead of breaking with this awful tradition? Hahaha!
Oh, totally! I want the misery spread around. Also, I wanted to make sure she didn’t get special treatment because she’s Asian-American. No hauling out these traditions just to mess with the white girl!
Love your blog, but I want to put on my pedant hat for a moment. Russian tea is called chai, and is not prepared in samovars. The samovar holds the hot water which you add to the zavarka (strong brew in a separate pot) to make a cup of tea.
I do respect that every tradition and ceremony stems from some kind of lesson or practice in history. I also do feel we can learn a lot from our folks and elders. However hierarchy between each other doing everyday things in the everyday sense – not something I advocate for.
Traditions are tough–I love many of them, and yet they are often rooted in superstition and misogyny. Sometimes, they can be modified. Sometimes, they just need to go!