Small Talk: How To Make CNY Conversations Less Awkward


Chinese New Year is upon us yet again! Often marked by a time of festive feasting, breaking out the mahjong tiles and poker cards, and dozing off on comfortable sofas, Chinese New Year is also well known for one other thing – dealing with questions from relatives that sometimes leave you completely speechless!

Whether you’re on the giving or receiving end of these tricky questions, here are some tips on how to turn the conversation around for good.

#1 “How did you do for your exams?”

All students are well acquainted with this question. Whether you’ve just sat for an exam in the last three days or three months, this question is bound to come your way, as long as you are in any sort of educational institution!

If you have been asked:

Be polite in your reply! We know that it’s frustrating to repeat the same answers to every other curious relative who doesn't know how to strike up a conversation with you. Rather than remaining indifferent to their efforts, why not ask about stories from their own childhood? You might unearth some hidden gems you never knew about! 

If you are the one asking:

It is difficult to think about what to talk about with our younger relatives, so we often settle on an obvious choice: school. Instead of asking specific questions about exams, why not ask the younger ones about their life in school? What CCA are they in? What’s their favourite food from the school canteen?

#2 “What are you doing now?”

Graduated from school, and from question #1? Welcome to adulthood… And facing this new question!

If you have been asked:

If you haven’t landed a stable job by CNY, this question will be difficult to answer. You’ll likely be met with a mini lecture on how young people these days enjoy job-hopping too much. If you’re still working where you were the year before, you might be saved from talking more about your job itself – but might face more awkward questions on career progression, pay, and the like. We say add a dash of humour into your replies to avoid the conversation getting too serious!

If you are the one asking:

Much like exams, jobs are a delicate subject to broach. The problem here is that it is easy to accidentally slip into comparing your conversation partner with their other (usually) better faring, peers. If you would really like to ask about one’s work life, we suggest that you be tactful and understanding. Not everyone will choose to follow societally conventional career paths! 

#3 “Got boyfriend/girlfriend yet?”

Ah, the prickly topic of romantic relationships. If you are in a long-term relationship, this question will inevitably lead into the dreaded “so when are you getting married?” (See #3!) And if you are single, get ready to defend your singlehood, because your relatives will want to know why! Attached or not, this question is like a minefield to all.

If you have been asked:

Be honest! It is tempting to give relatives the replies they want to hear, fending them off from probing deeper into your personal life (and possible struggles with romance). But remember that you will have to own up to your lie sooner or later, and show up with the imaginary partner you just made up! Instead of going on the defensive, try switching the subject to other aspects of your life.

If you are the one asking:

We know that you are probably coming from a place of genuine concern. But do remember that the topic of one’s love life can be highly sensitive! Instead of going straight into the question, try asking more general questions such as “how has the past year been for you?” or “has the year started out well for you so far?”    

#4 “When are you getting married?”

If your partner has been sighted at family gatherings more than once, enthusiastic relatives might pounce on the opportunity to pop the question. “When are you getting a BTO flat?” is also a common variation you might encounter.

If you have been asked:

Like all the other questions, this one might be a little too personal for comfort. Whether a wedding is in the works or not, understand how comfortable your partner is with talking about this with your relatives. If you and your partner aren’t ready to have this conversation with family, just answer the question with a smile and say not yet.

If you are the one asking:

Understand that not all couples are open to sharing such details! If they seem uncomfortable with this particular conversation topic, we suggest easing into something less personal and more lighthearted. Maybe you could try asking them about how they met?

#5 “When are you having kids?”

Newlyweds are hot targets for this question. Giving out ang bao for the first time this year? Cradling your cousin’s newborn son or daughter? When is it your turn to have a baby of your own ah?

If you have been asked:

Firstly, be sure that you and your partner agree on the answer to this question! If you both have contrasting opinions on starting a family, don’t bring that difference to the table in front of your relatives. If you both are of the same mind, we say be gentle but firm in your answer; your relatives may be curious, but taking this significant step is a choice between you and your partner.

If you are the one asking:

Be respectful of the couple’s opinions! While the addition of younger ones into family gatherings definitely livens up the atmosphere, having a child is an enormous decision that couples will have to discuss and agree upon between themselves. Whatever they choose would have come with much consideration, so try to be warm and support their choice!   


Ready to take on CNY yet? We hope that this time of reunion will be filled with lots of laughter, meaningful conversations, and much love!