I have dropped some breadcrumbs, post after post, about how crazy my extended family is and how their madness may very likely be connected to the fact that they are Lao. I am aware that it is a racist statement but still…I let you be the judge after you finish reading this post. Also everything written here is actually 100% true and if people do recognize themselves, well it is exactly how you sound. I still love you. Most times 🙂
On the topic of your physical appearance
‘Her husband is so handsome; you should see him grand ma. She is meh but he is GORGEOUS.’ Because it is deemed important to assess whom outta of a couple got the better end of the bargain when it comes to the beauty department. And by the way, you are not supposed to get offended because it is the TRUTH.
So yeah, they tell it like it is. The other day, my dad was staring at a friend of mine who very likely leans towards the democratic vote ( he is Canadian after all). After some intense staring, he had an epiphany and proudly stated: ‘Ha!!! I know who you look like! George W Bush!!!’
Fits of embarrassing laughter ensued; and my friend’s wife tried to save the day: ‘maybe a mix of Bush and Clinton ?’ to no avail… My dad cooly replied serious like a stone: ‘No, just Bush. In fact, he looks like Bush father and son, both of them.’
Most embarrassing/WTF moment since my dad did the duck dance with my mother in law at my wedding.
But all this is nothing compared to Lao women’s obsession with other women’s weight. Typically, things start like below.
‘Wow. You have gained so much weight I did not recognize you.’
The conversation usually then unfolds in 2 possible ways:
Option 1: you are trying to explain.
– ‘I did have 3 kids’.
– ‘So did I but look at me, still the same face and body. ‘
To which your evil bitchy self is dying to reply: ‘Yes you are lucky. Getting knocked up at 18 by the local suburbian boy does indeed make wonder in terms of getting your pre pregnancy weight back. When you are in your late 30s (like me), have travelled and tasted amazing world cuisine…well yeah pounds are a bitch to drop. It’s true but who can resist a NY steak right?’
But in reality you are shamefully replying: ‘Yes, you are SO lucky. Hmm, where’s the bar?’ And are thinking: ‘See you in 20 years. Bitch.’
Option 2: you stand on your ground.
‘No, I actually lost 4 pounds.’
To which they stop talking and start pinching and pulling (key word here) your double chin while grinning up to their ears.
You can NEVER win. Seriously.
On the topic of sibling rivalry
‘Ha, I see…that’s the ugly one. Where is the pretty one?’. Always indeed useful to quickly identify who is whom in a pack of mutts.
‘She is a good student but you should check out her sister’s test scores. Much better.’ Just in case your sister did not already hate your guts.
‘He is the grand father’s favorite grand child; he does not like the others much. I, for myself, struggle with my son’s temperament; my younger daughter is the one I prefer’.
All these being part of a fairly typical casual chat with friends as THE kids themselves are trying to eat (and fail to digest) their Pho Bo.
It is so bad that when a few months ago I read in the New York Times and Le Monde different articles addressing the modern times taboo of the ‘favorite’ child I was at loss. What taboo?
On the topic of gender equality and general marital advice
‘Of course she was going to leave him. It’s because she has a higher degree; that’s not how it works. To make it work, men must have higher education than their wives.’ No.It is not taken from a Mad Men script. I swear.
Another time, my grand ma told me over the phone that she had been hearing rumors about my temper and that I was being too tough on my husband (???) and that I should really be more lenient and understanding (god knows about what). I wondered if my brother gets the same type of call. Hmmm. Very unlikely if I believe the wedding good wishes DH and I got at our very own Soukhouane ceremony. The soukhouane is a ceremony that calls upon your spirits/energy so that they are tied back to you and you can be in your prime in different key moments of your life (birth, move, accidents, marriage, death etc.). It is beautiful and emotional. The ceremony is then followed by your family and friends wishing you well tying threads of cotton around your wrists. As grannies (‘meh tao’) ,wished me good health and financial prosperity they wished/implored DH to be faithful to me and never take a ‘second wife’ also more commonly called in western cultures ‘mistress’ or ‘lover’. The poor guy had no benefit of the doubt.
It gets worse.
My very own first cousin whom I was meeting for the first time asked : ‘Are you saying that of his own free will your husband will not come with me and check out escort girls?
‘What about you ask him?’
Cousin actually asked DH using me as the translator. Not awkward at all. DH at that point was scared of saying anything really and wondered what kind of sick games we were playing and what kind of weapons I was hiding in my purse.
Cousin concluded:‘yeah, it is not possible. It’s because you are standing here.’ What???
On the topic of the LGBT community
To start with, I shall say that my family is relatively very open minded about gays and lesbians (and I love them for that!) but they also have the weirdest way to express their support and acceptance. They have come a long way though.
First step was denial.
My first gay centric conversation with my folks went like this.
‘Mom, where is your cousin staying?’
‘At a friend’s.’
‘You mean at his boyfriend’s
‘No, how dare you? It’s his friend’.
‘He’s gay, mom.’
‘Who said this?’
‘He did. And you saw his gay porn collection all over his bedroom’.
‘Hmmmm (frozen face, red face )…i don’t think I did (and Asian stoic face). ‘
I was probably as confused as my gay childhood friend who came out to his parents in his early 20s…
‘Your friend is nice.’
‘He is my boyfriend.’
‘It will be lovely when I meet your girlfriend.’
‘Mom, he is my BOYfriend.’
‘I hope you decide to have children and…’
Intervention by the father: ‘Mama your son is trying to tell you that he likes boys’.
The mom: ‘Your kids will look pretty’.
Second step was curiosity.
‘So, ok I understand that they are in love and live together so now can you tell me who is the wife and who is the husband?’
‘Pop, that is not how it works!’
‘What do you mean? What’s the point if there is no wife and no husband?’
I still haven’t gathered the courage to ask further what my dad meant by that; scared shitless that he was being ‘graphic’ about it…oh dear…
Third step was full on support and approval 🙂
Three years ago, I overheard my mom tell her friends:
‘My daughter only has gay friends. She has been like this since she was a child. Gays tend to come to her. It makes sense though: they are gorgeous, very cultured, very funny, have good manners. Do you remember Archibald from her wedding? Yes he is one of ‘them’. I am telling you; they have it all. Her friends look like men too, you know. You would not have guessed. Yes, hell I do want them as friends too. I have to admit it; I do have gay friends too..’
There are so many wrong things in that last paragraph that I cannot even start breaking it down. But it does not change the fact that at the core of it is tolerance and love… or least a damn good attempt at it. And on days when news around the world about hatred and fear of each other just depress me, I do take some comfort in thinking that my folks are trying. Their own way. With some kind of twisted love. It can make you and break you. But they do try.
Lao readers, what is your most ‘what the fuck?’ moment triggered by a fellow Lao? Non Lao readers, what is your most ‘what the fuck’ moment triggered by a countryman/woman?