DATING THE FAMILY: TIPS ON DATING FAMILY-CENTRIC CULTURES

The topic of family is a potentially volatile issue when it comes to dating. While most connotations of family usually indicate something positive like a sense of community, it can become a deal breaker in the world of dating particularly in today’s society where the progressive western mindset champions individuality sometimes over community.

But don’t tell that to some cultures! The western ideal has its own benefits and sounds like a lot of fun but in the traditional sense, most cultures still value a strong sense of familial commitment. When you’re dating people from these cultures, be aware that regardless of how westernized or traditional they may seem, their sense of family will be tied to their cultural roots.

Here are some things to keep in mind when trying to win over a special someone from a strong family-centric culture:   

Respect the elders: respect comes and goes in today’s society. “Respect isn’t given, it’s earned” is usually the motto for all you smart arses. But family-centric people particularly Asians like the Japanese and Chinese have a strong sense of respect towards the elders.

In traditional Chinese culture for example, it is standard for the elderly to live with one of their children. Despite changing times, a nationwide Chinese survey found only 23 percent of seniors over the age of 65 live by themselves.

Likewise, Mediterranean (Greeks and Italians) culture are also big on having the elderly live with the family unit as chronicled in the smash Canadian film, My Big Fat Greek Wedding from 2002.

To better harmonize with the family, pay closer attention to the eldest members and be attentive to what they have to say (even if a lot of it is complete bollocks).

Be open about children: they are the most significant portion of the family. In today’s day and age, it’s not uncommon for people to wed and not have children. One in every five couples voluntarily have no children. But that’s not the case with many cultures who idealize the role children have to play in relationships.

Latino and Filipino culture is heavily influenced by the Catholic religion, which considers the family as the basic unit of society. Families are usually expected to consist of a mother, father, children and even an extended family (grandparents and other relatives).

For a lot of Middle Eastern families who are predominantly Muslim, marriage is not only essential but seen as a highly religious and sacred ceremony. It legalizes sex and the procreation of children.

To foster a more wholesome bond with each other, keep an open mind about the prospect of tying the knot and having little you’s running around.

Learn the language:  you don’t have to be a walking translator when you’re trying to communicate with your partner’s family.

If you date someone from a Mediterranean or Iberian (Spanish, Portuguese) background chances are learning the language even just a little can impress the more traditional members of the family. Plus, it’ll be easier to do grocery shopping or figuring out what to eat.

But certain non-English words don’t have a direct English translation to them. And they can be very sentimental. “Gigil” is a Tagalog (Filipino) word, which describes an irresistible urge to pinch someone out of sheer cuteness. Like a baby. “Ya’arburnee” is Arabic, which literally means “may you bury me”, a sentimental gesture that you outlive the person usually told to someone very dear like a child or a lover.

Learn their customs and traditions: this ties in with the previous point. If you want bonus points with your significant other’s family, partaking in their customs and learning some of their gestures is a good place to start.

Filipinos have a tradition of saluting the elder members of the family with the “mano”. This gesture is a sign of respect and the person takes the hand of the elder and presses their forehead against the hand.  

Hand gestures are also key for Greeks and Italians. They say actions speak louder than words so learning a couple of special hand signals (outside the middle finger) will work wonders.

Picking up a couple of these can serve as good icebreakers and help you feel more bonded with the family.

Be updated about their news and pop culture: chances are, the older members of the family are first generation or second generation and still have strong ties to their native countries. Thanks to the magic of technology, it’s easy to stay in touch with home with specialized TV programs and diaspora news.

India has the largest diaspora population according to a UN report. Over 16 million Indians settled in places like Canada, the UK or the West Indies still consume Indian pop culture. In places like Toronto, the Indian diaspora is so significant the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC) recurrently airs programs in Punjabi including Hockey Night in Canada. Indian movies are also a staple in major movie houses in the city.

Learning a bit on what’s popular within the family/community will take you further and teach you new things. Otherwise, enjoy the cheesy goodness of Bollywood films. 

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