Tuesday, 1 November 2011


Around this time of the year Shanghai is full of three types of people; Tourists enjoying the milder weather, newbie expatriates nievly full of the joys of a city that hasn't slapped them around the face yet, and family visitors joining their expatriate relatives.  I have been 'enjoying' the later of these three during the past month, the weather in Shanghai is only bearable during the very short spring and fall and its the only really sensible time to visit for  business or tourism.

Being a miserable sod, who is only truly happy in his own company, or complaining about other people,  having strangers in my house doesn't fill me with enthusiasm or delight, even when those strangers are family.  You see I left home when I was 21, and spent the next 20 years travelling around the world just to get away from living with family,  don't get me wrong I love my family and would do anything for them, anything except have them live under my roof.  So when my better half announced that her parents would be staying for the entire month of September I lurched for my address book to see what suppliers I hadn't visited for a few months.

Its hard enough for two people who love each other deeply, to live together at times, especially at the start when every snore, belch, noisy chew and ball shuffling habit grinds on the other like bleach on a paper cut.  Over time you learn to accept and ignore the curious (to you) eating habits, the 3 hour long baths and the strange obsession with matching underwear.  If your lucky you get to enjoy these 'cultural' differences before you take the plunge and get married, either way love overcomes and you learn to live with most, and ignore the rest.  Of course when you marry you inherit a whole army of people you didn't choose to live with, and who's habits you didn't sign up for!

My parent-in-laws are good, kind and generous people, a tad racist, a smidgeon bigoted and a dash homophobic but that seems almost acceptable in people of their age.  Their not bad people, but grew up in a different generation, with different beliefs and standards.  They have watched a country change beyond their recognition and they have grown elderly, infirm and feeling unsupported by a state they helped design and contributed towards, for moments exactly like this. I am not condoning their views, just trying to understand the reasons why they are like the way they are. Most of the time of course I don't have to put up with their views for longer than a few hours each year, family visits back to the UK are rare, and even when we do visit our time together is short, but not this time, a month living under the same roof tugs at your patience strings like a blue marlin tugs at a deep sea fishing line.

I am fairly liberal minded, accepting many different beliefs, religions and views on a myriad of subjects,  however i love to play devils advocate, its my favourite hobby and pushes my intellectual boundaries - especially when I'm trying to defend or offer an opinion on a subject not versed or prepared for. So when you have a couple who blame the worlds problems on immigrants, corrupt politicians, gay people and  Lady Gaga I am armed with more than enough material to provide a counter view (apart from defending Lady Gaga of course!).  If every conversation you enter into ends in a view that you should deport everyone who isn't related to the Queen (despite her actually being of German lineage), that  HIV/AID's is gods way of ridding the world of drug taking, homosexual commodity traders and politicians, and that  popular music culture is the reason girls get pregnant at 12, and why men no longer lay down their coats over puddles in the street - you can imagine that I spent 29 days of the 30 they spent with us arguing the virtues of a multi cultural, multi sexual, multi musical (I made the last one up!) society.

All of these arguments led to some interesting outcomes, not least the fact that you find out pretty quickly that you are incompatible to the extend that every little nuance grinds on you like broken glass into an eyeball.  You find yourself feeling hatred for the way someone breaths; too noisy, too often, too shallow, too deep - at all!  We would go to a restaurant for lunch or dinner, and even before they ordered I would know that they didn't like the food.  No chips, wrong shape chips, chips too thin, chips too fat, too spicy, not spicy enough, reaching for the salt before tasting, eating every last morsel on the plate and then complaining it wasn't very nice, having the same bloody club sandwich in every establishment you venture into, drinking too much alcohol on top of a cocktail of medication designed to sedate a Sperm Whale, and getting louder and louder with each sip before finally professing that 'we don't really like this foreign muck!' "WHY THE FU&K DID YOU COME TO SHANGHAI THEN!!!"

The list of irritations is endless, actual conversation 1:
"we didn't sleep because the room was too warm",
'thats what the air conditioning is for',
"yes but its too noisy",
"but if your awake anyway what is the difference, if your going to be awake at least do it in comfort',
"no its ok we will just struggle with the heat."
'put the air conditioning on before going to bed, and turn it off when you actually go'
"No its ok, we will be fine"

Conversation 2
"We need a new padlock for our suitcases"
"Well customs must have broke the one we had on our case, because it wasn't with our suitcase when we arrived"
'That's because you shouldn't really put a padlock on your suitcase, it raises suspicion and customs have to break it to check whats in your bag'
"Yes but our belongings aren't safe without a lock on the suitcase"
'Well I have flown over 100 flights in the last 3 years, and have never had anything stolen from a suitcase - all without locks on'
"Yes but we want a lock"
'Who is going to steal your underwear, knitting and copies of readers digest?'
"But we don't want anyone to open our cases"
'Yes but customs will be suspicious and definitely open your case because you have a lock on it'
"We need a new padlock for our suitcase"

I know its me and not them, I should learn to be more tolerant, more supportive and more understanding.   I have lived a very different life, enjoying different cultures, locations, foods and experiences, making me more adventurous and open minded I guess, it has also made me freer with my money, less protective with my belongings and having little regard for preserving what I have earned. But none of this is personal, it could be anyone  staying with us and I would have found some small niggle to upset me, I am sure the Pope is noisy when he eats, the Queen picks her teeth after a meal and the Dali Lama's beads rattle too loudly when he shuffles. The point is that my tolerance levels are very, very low, and its just best to leave me alone, after all the only people who actually come to visit us, come to see my wife or the kids, so perhaps I should just leave home at this point and wallow in my own perfection?  If I was more tolerant, more accepting, and less wound up like a swiss timepiece, maybe I could accept the fact that people insist on 'remembering' the war, or see mayonnaise as a strange delicacy, but until that that point please accept my offer to book a hotel for you as the most appropriate solution to ensure you enjoy the short stay you have in Shanghai. 


  1. Yep, the locks on the cases simply give the bored people something to do.

    Whenever we visit we always stay in a hotel. I just tell people we are not good guests, never the truth, that they would make me insane enough to possibly hurt them.

  2. I fear that as we age, we tend to find more and more pleasure in complaining. I remember my elderly neighbors complaining about the noise from my skateboard with near orgasmic pleasure. In fact, in the spirit of good neighbors I made it a point to grind their curb extra hard and if ice-cream money is a good indicator, I think they really appreciated it.
    Perhaps China, with its endless source of perceived deficiencies is a great source of enjoyment for your in-laws.