Handling nosy questions and other CNY etiquette

Don’t know how to react when your aunt says you’re getting fat? Manage these sensitive situations with our expert tips.


Chinese New Year is a wonderful time for families to come together and bond over age-old traditions, delicious food and engaging conversations.

Yet, some people also regard this occasion as a time of dread. Says Grace Lim, who has been married for two years, “Last year was exhausting, because all the relatives are expecting us to be pregnant and have babies already. We explained to them that we are going to wait till my husband finishes his Masters degree, but they didn’t buy it. We expect the same this year.” 

To avoid the hassle of having to deal with touchy topics, one mum, who wants to be known as Mrs Yap, says her family tries to plan a trip around the Chinese New Year holiday. Mrs Yap, who has two daughters aged 5 and 9, says that the constant comparisons that the older folk make between all the kids in the family creates a very tense atmosphere. “No one really wants to discuss how badly they did in the exams last year, or how my child’s school is not as good as another child’s,” she says.

“No one really wants to discuss how badly they did in the exams last year, or how my child’s school is not as good as another child’s.”


So, just how do you get out of such sticky situations? Etiquette experts Denise Ng, managing consultant of ImagoImage, and Agnes Koh, director of Director of Etiquette & Image International, helps you wriggle your way out of uncomfortable conversations gracefully.

Your mum’s cousin, who you only see once a year, looks at you and says, “Wah! Are you pregnant?” You reply sheepishly, “Erm, nope”. “Oh…you look like you’re pregnant… Must be putting on weight,” she replies, prodding your belly.

Ng: The best thing to do is to respond light-heartedly. If you don’t want to let the secret out yet, or have in fact put on weight, laugh it off with a “Yes! Too many good dinners over the New Year!” If they press on, affably change the topic. Don’t be prickly or defensive ― not only is it bad etiquette to create a tense atmosphere during this festive period, but your conduct will be an unwanted topic of conversation among your relatives.

You’ve been trying for a baby for a year, without success. So, naturally, your non-existent baby-bump becomes a hot topic at this year’s reunion dinner.

Ng: Give the short reply, “We haven’t decided yet,” with a smile and immediately ask about the enquirer’s family or health, so that you deflect the conversation away from yourself. You’ve answered the question, made it clear that’s all you want to say, and you’ll earn yourself brownie points for showing interest in them.

Finding it hard to manage your toddler’s behaviour during family gatherings? Read on for more tips.