I recently wrote a post about how Mr. FAF and I bought a house in Washington DC.
I brought up the fact that my in-laws helped us with the down payment as they considered it their responsibility to help their son, Mr. FAF, buy a house for his family.
One of the readers was kind enough to point out that she had never heard of this financial expectation before and asked if there are others.
In this post, I will discuss six main financial expectations in familes in China and Vietnam (referred to as Asia for short) that are not common in America.
I realized these are broad generalizations. But I think the patterns are applicable to many families in Asia and are worth discussing.
The analysis below is based on my experience of
(1) living in Vietnam for 18 years,
(2) being married to a husband born and raised in China, and
(3) living in America for 12 years.
1. Parents to pay for their children’s wedding
In America, the bride’s parents are expected to pay for the one wedding for her and the groom.
However, in Asia, the bride’s and groom’s families will have two separate weddings for their own guests, and both sets of parents pay for their own child’s wedding.
A wedding in Asia is an occasion where the parents can showcase their wealth, connection, and influence, so they want to make it as big as they can possibly afford.
Wedding gifts are usually money put in an envelope. The amount varies depending on the venue, the parents’ socioeconomic status, and how close their relationships are with the guests. Parents can use the money to offset the costs of the wedding.
We had two weddings: one in China and one in Vietnam. We were in the US prior to the ceremonies, so our parents prepared everything. Our main job was to show up at the wedding and to thank the guests.
Our parents kept the money we received from the guests. I know Mr. FAF parents’ spent more than what they got, while mine got just enough to pay for the whole wedding.
2. Parents to buy a house for their son
If you’re a man in Asia and want to get married, you are expected to own a house. If a man has no property, he’s considered less marriage-material and thus less likely to find a wife. Given the gender imbalance in China (118 boys to every 100 girls), the competition for a wife is fierce.
If a man can’t get married for whatever reason, especially after they’re past 35, it is considered a shame for his parents. In other words, people think there might be something wrong with him since no woman is willing to marry him.
Parents therefore are under pressure to find a good match for their son in order to save face and to carry on the family tree. They are expected to either own a house to leave their offspring after they pass or to buy a separate house for their son and his future wife.
It is not uncommon for a guy to go on a first date and get asked by the girl “How many properties do you or your parents own?” Don’t be surprised if the guy gets a disappointing look from the girl when he says “One.”
After Mr. FAF and I got married, we were still in grad school in America, not knowing where we would end up. It was an unspoken topic, but my parents expected Mr. FAF to have a house for me and our future children.
My parents liked Mr. FAF and didn’t mention the house. But Mr. FAF’s parents were culturally aware of the elephant in the room and promised my parents they would help us buy a house when we knew for sure where we would live after our graduation.
Property is crucial to marriage in Asia.
3. Paternal grandparents to take care of their grandchildren
Besides buying a house, the husband’s parents are also expected to take care of their grandchildren free of charge. If a couple has kids in Asia, the children are considered to be the “official” members of the husband’s family.
In other words, the husband’s parents are the “real” grandparents who take on the duty of caring for their grandchildren. The wife’s parents can choose to help out, but it’s not their main responsibility.
When Mr. FAF and I had Baby FAF, my in-laws came all the way from China to help us. They didn’t get any sort of compensation for doing that. In fact, they helped us out financially as well and never asked for anything in return.
Sometimes we (gratefully) joke that Mr. FAF’s parents retired from their jobs and paid a big sum to get new full-time unpaid babysitting jobs with us.
4. The husband and his wife to live with his parents
You might start to think that it’s so unfair that the man’s parents have to take on so many responsibilities. But their efforts are supposed to be rewarded. The husband and his wife are expected to live with his parents to take care of them.
In modern days, many young couples can choose to live on their own. However, some couples still can’t afford to buy a home or don’t have the husband’s parents buy them a house, so they live with the parents.
Our parents are currently in Asia. But Mr. FAF and I have discussed having both sets of parents living with us in the future so that we can take care of them when they’re older.
5. Adult children to support their parents financially
When someone goes to college in Vietnam and China, their parents are expected to support them throughout their 4 years in school.
Young people can choose to get a part-time job and try to get a scholarship, but it’s still considered the parents’ responsibility to pay for their children’s education.
However, once they graduate from college and start working, they are expected to give a portion of their salaries back to their parents. This payment serves two main purposes:
(1) To thank the parents for their hard work and upbringing
(2) To contribute to family expenses since many adults live with their parents even after they turn 18, go to college, or get married.
Our parents don’t expect Mr. FAF and me to support them financially. They have a pension and have worked hard all their lives to save up for their retirement.
But we still plan to give them a certain amount of money each month as a token of our gratitude and to give them extra income when they’re retired.
6. A man to provide for his family, his parents, and possibly his wife’s parents
Partly due to the one child policy in China, many parents have only one daughter and thus expect the best husband for her and the best son-in-law for themselves.
A financially secure son-in-law is a source of not only pride but also financial support for the wife’s parents. There are cases where the husband is the only one working to support himself, his wife, their kid, his parents, and his in-laws (7 people).
My parents don’t expect any financial support from us. But I know it makes them feel proud and happy knowing that we care about them more than just emotionally.
These are just broad strokes of the family culture in Vietnam and China. It’s not entirely true for every family. But if you sample enough families and observe their behavior, you will see the patterns mentioned above.
Mr. FAF and I are fortunate enough to build our family in America. But we will keep some of the Asian values that we hold dear to our hearts such as taking care of our parents when they’re old both emotionally and financially.
What Baby FAF decides to do in the future is totally up to him. We just know that we are not planning to depend on him for financial support. That’s why we will try to build a strong retirement account and make investment that can yield us a good return when we’re old.
We will provide for Baby FAF until he finishes college. But after that, we will set him free on his path, watch him from a distance, and will catch him if he falls.