For those who are stuck visiting relatives they barely know, Chinese New Year is probably the most hated holiday in Singapore. And many times, the ones responsible are our nosy uncles and aunties who for some reason, have a knack for unsolicited comments and intrusive questions.
There are undoubtedly those who are genuinely concerned and end up being, well, unintentionally maddening. But the bulk of them create such conversations mainly to boast about their own kids, bringing down the other young people in the room. And as fully expected of Singaporeans, their focus is usually on money, career and success in general.
We can’t stop your nosy relatives from running their mouth, but we can try to help you out with some clapbacks. Here are 5 awkward questions you might get from relatives this Chinese New Year and how to “politely” deal with them.
Your cousin is a doctor/lawyer/etc. How much do you earn?
Chinese New Year is a battle of egos for aunties and uncles, and in the Singaporean auntie’s mind, whoever earns the most in the room is the person most worthy of respect… and envy. If you’re that overachieving kid, good for you.
If not… get ready to be shot with questions about your finances and career.
This shouldn’t be surprising: after all, if your nosy relatives are “that kind”, you would have probably grown up getting compared to your cousins your whole life. If they’ve asked you why you didn’t get into Raffles or Harvard like your bright cousin Maximilian, then what makes you think you won’t get asked why you’re not some big-time doctor, lawyer or banker?
While your parents might have easily compared your grades with your cousins’ when you were at school, now that you’ve entered the working world there’s a lot more secrecy and suspicion on the part of nosy relatives. Chances are your own parents don’t even know exactly how much you earn.
Well, you can bet your relatives will try their darnedest to find out. So don’t be too shocked if they ask you outright how much you’re earning.
How to deal: Of course, these people have no business asking you how much you make, and you’re not obliged to answer. The best response is to simply say firmly that that’s private information you don’t want to disclose.
We all know it’s annoying when somebody questions your career choices. Unfortunately, it’s all too common to hear relatives sneer at the career path you’ve taken which they deem isn’t as prestigious as Cousin X’s.
If they keep probing, go ahead and tell them why you’ve chosen your career path. Tell them that hey, just because you’re not raking in millions doesn’t mean what you do is of no value.
Perhaps you design pretty things that beautify the world, perhaps you educate kids like their own so they can hopefully grow up to be less bratty, perhaps you’ve chosen to do what you do so you have more time to devote to your own hobbies.
Whatever you do, don’t engage and try to enter into a competition with whomever you’ve been compared with. You can never win and you’ll only make an enemy out of the other embarrassed young person. Instead, try to deflect attention by making a joke or changing the subject—if you’re asked why you’re not a high flying doctor like Cousin X, say you get high enough after a few beers.
Why have you still not bought a house and/or car?
While millennials have mostly ceased to attach any importance to the five Cs, for older folks these are often important markers to prove that you have indeed grown up and “made it”. So don’t be surprised if your relatives take your lack of property or a car to mean that you’re an unsuccessful loser.
Adding salt to the wound, many of these relatives like to share stories of how they used to earn much less, yet managed to save up and afford a house and car by age 25 or something.
… Conveniently leaving out the fact that houses (even HDBs) were way cheaper in the 80s too. For example, a new 4-room flat only costed $80,000 then. Now, we have to pay upwards of $300,000, and that’s for non-mature estates where birds don’t lay eggs and dogs don’t poop.
And if we can’t even afford a roof over our heads, what money do you think we have to buy swanky cars?
How to deal: Just say “okay, boomer” and walk off. That way, you’ll probably be uninvited from future gatherings and you won’t have to deal with this nonsense ever again.
But more seriously, if you actually treasure your relationship with these relatives — maybe they make good curry, or they’re actually nice when they’re not nosy? — tell them you have no desire to buy either at the moment.
You can explain that it’s a lot of money, and you prefer not to tie yourself down to such a huge financial commitment until you’re completely sure of it.
Or, you can simply start complaining about how expensive everything is, and that you’re still saving up to afford a house/car. Chances are, she’ll forget about one-upping you and join in the whining — everyone wins!
Can I borrow money from you?
Sigh. Sometimes, you can’t win.
When you’re poor, you get looked down upon by relatives who think they and their offspring are superior to you. When you’re rich, you get deadbeat uncles trying to wrangle some cash from you to fuel their casino gambling sessions.
How to deal: If this is a relative you see so seldom he needs to wait till Chinese New Year to ask you to lend him money, he has no business doing so. Especially if it’s for gambling.
Just pretend you didn’t hear, and head elsewhere.
If you really can’t “escape”, say a firm “no”. You’re definitely not obliged to explain yourself, but if you feel compelled to, you can share that 1) you’re not in any position to be lending others money and/or 2) you don’t feel comfortable giving them more money to gamble away.
In the event it’s not to fuel any vices and you are actually considering lending them the cash, ask for more time to decide. It’s definitely unwise to make a decision under such pressure.
What are some of the worst things you’ve overheard people say during Chinese New Year gatherings? Tell us in the comments!