When moving to current country of residency, our family was finally reunited with other relatives from my paternal side. Dinning out as a whole family group wasn’t a easy thing to organise. Not just about the numbers, but many little unspoken rules and manners that we were expected to know as children. My family was living abroad for eight years apart from paternal and maternal relatives. We will occasionally visit them during long holidays but it is just for a month. According to my memory, my paternal extended families are strict about such rules and manners, in comparison to maternal relatives.
Let me illustrate a dinner in a Chinese restaurant with round tables. As a kid, you have to wait until adults ask you to sit in certain seat. There is an appropriate order for seating even in a round table. Wherever grandfather sat, that’s where other seating arrangement starts. Normally, on this round table, we fit 10 to 12 seats. So, my grandfather will sit on the position at 12 o’clock.
11 my father (first child)
10 my mother (partner of first child)
9 my first aunt (second child)
8 my first uncle-in-law (partner of second child)
7 my second uncle -in-law (partner of third child)
6 my second aunt (third child)
5 my third aunt (fourth child)
4 my third uncle-in-law (partner of fourth child)
3 my uncle (fifth child)
2 my aunt-in-law (partner of fifth child)
1 my grandmother
As you can see, this is full house of a round table. This kind of order applies to children’s table too. It is fascinating some relatives will get upset about their seating arrangement because for them where you sit will determine how much you are respected.
When dishes were served, you have to wait your turn to eat. What do I mean by that? There’s an order of serving too. Grandfather will take his serve first, followed by grandmother, then my father, then it continues anti-clockwise. Similar order applies to children’s table. Instead of seating arrangement, it is based on the age of each child. Obviously, the oldest ones will take their serve first followed by next and it continues. You have to wait until everyone had a serve to have another serve. We were freed to talk about anything and no mobile devices were allowed. If you had mobile phones (it was a new technology back then), you need to keep it in your bag until you leave the restaurant.
Another thing, even you are bored about this gathering, you cannot say you want to go home until grandfather suggest the end of this gathering. After all dishes were served for about 30 minutes, you need to take a glass of water/tea cheering and showing the appreciation to the person who are catering for that dinner for whatever the occasion.
This was when I was young so about 20 years back.
My paternal relatives are less likely to gather as the whole family group anymore. Too much conflicts and tensions between each of the nuclear family.
However, on one of the special occasion, we’ve gathered. Not every single member were there but we haven’t had dinner with such a big group for more than 10 years. This time, no much of all above rules/manners were still enforced. People still sat in some order but this time it depended on favoritism, in other words, who you want to sit with. Each kids had their own electronic devices on their hands. No much commonalities between us which limited our dialogues. In that sense, I felt disconnected to my paternal extended relatives.
How do you communicate with your extended family members?
Do you choose to connect with them?
What do you share on the discussion table?