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A Crash Course in Chinese Culture for Adoptive Parents


Chinese adoption has made my family multicultural in a way I could have never imagined. 

I really didn’t understand fully the concept of being multicultural or what that would look like. Introducing our daughter to our family and culture gave us an opportunity, in turn, to dive into the rich history and culture that China has to offer. 

If you are anything like me, then you tend to be surprised by how different people in other countries live. Differences in culture take me by surprise and get my mind working and asking questions. 

But I want to assure you that it is okay and learning about a new culture has a steep learning curve. Take the time to learn, your child will appreciate it more than you know. 

How Chinese Culture Surprised Me

If you read my previous blog about helpful Chinese phrases for adoptive families then you will know a few of the things that surprised me. There are several things that I wasn’t fully prepared for but I’m only going to mention a few of them.

Drinking Hot Water

So much hot water.  

I honestly was not prepared for that. No one told us prior to traveling that if you asked for water at a restaurant that they would bring you a nice cup of steaming hot water. Even in the middle of a Beijing summer. You have to ask specifically for ice water or ice tea or ice in any drink at all.  

This is very much a cultural thing that is believed to promote health and wellness. In the interest of embracing the culture of our daughter, we accepted the hot water graciously while sweating profusely. But we did learn from our guide where to get iced drinks and the best ones to try.  

Portion Sizes

Our first experience ordering in a restaurant was definitely nerve-wracking.  We had no guide and no idea what we were doing or really what we were ordering.  It worked out in the end, but we didn’t know that the default size in most restaurants is family-sized and served family-style.

We ordered so much food the first time.  It was kind of embarrassing but everyone was really nice.  We mentioned it to our guide the next day and she walked us through how to order like a local.  That was very helpful since this was going to be our home for the next two weeks. 

People are Curious

The Chinese people we encountered were naturally curious and wanted to know not only what we were doing with a Chinese teenager but why we would adopt in the first place. The size of our family also made them very curious.

We were told that part of being Chinese was being curious and being very bold in asking questions. We didn’t mind at all, but our guide told us that it was also culturally okay to not answer to shoo them away.

I didn’t want to do that, but she did a few times. I didn’t mind the curiosity or the questions and loved interacting with locals. 


This is something I am still getting used to because as Americans we have very clear lines of family and not family.

It is not often that someone is referred to as Aunt if they are not the sister of your mom or dad. Big sisters are your actual big sister. Things like that really took me by surprise. Our daughter called our first guide Ayi, which means Aunt in English and our second guide Ge Ge (big brother).  

This bothered me because we were very concerned about bonding issues. My lack of understanding that aspect of culture caused some rough seas that first 6 months. I thought she was bonding with other people instead of being polite. It is similar to an American child saying, Ma’am or sir.  

Learning About Chinese Culture from My Daughter

As we have been home, there are more things I learn all the time about Chinese culture from my daughter.

Some things I don’t immediately recognize as culture but digging deeper shows that it is. Some of her cultural things don’t only come from being Chinese but also from where she grew up.  

Most of the cultural aspects I have learned from her have to do with holidays. I learned most of what I know about Chinese New Year, Mid Autumn Festival, and Dragon Boat Festival from her.

Our daughter had very different experiences with these holidays than most children in China might have, so learning what they mean to her personally has been wonderful. 

Why I Love Being a Multicultural Family

Being a multicultural family has added a richness to our family that I am so grateful for. Our biological kids have developed a great appreciation for different cultures and have first-hand experience with the things that make culture amazing. It doesn’t hurt that they get double the holidays either!

The holidays are great but the best part for me is getting to see a small glimpse of her life before she came to our family.  We missed so much that we can’t get back but learning about her culture and what it means to her, helps put the pieces of the puzzle together. 

Learning your child’s culture is so important and what better culture to learn than Chinese culture?  There is so much to dive into, don’t miss out!

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Katie Rapp is a mother of 5, freelance writer, and adoption advocate.  When she has free time, she enjoys learning Mandarin, writing for her personal blog, and playing with her kids. 

Tue, 09 Feb 2021 08:00:00 GMT

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