Welcome to another episode of “An Asian Dude’s Experience with Black Culture,” aka, “How I Torpedoed My Political Career before it Ever Got Started.” This week, Jameelah’s family from Louisiana came to visit, which I was genuinely excited about, and by that, I meant I was hoping to be afflicted with some sort of debilitating tropical disease.
When you marry someone, you marry their entire extended family. (Not literally, mind you, else it would make the honeymoon very awkward.) It is important to get to know them. After all, they are now family. And more importantly, they might have a mansion or one of those ancient Chinese vases that are worth hundreds of thousands.
All week, Jameelah had been prepping me, giving footnotes for every relative. The description of cousin Joe’s wife, Addie, was terrifying: “She doesn’t talk; when she does, it’s just mean. She’s also much older than Joe. Last night, she stormed off because someone thought she was his mom. Everyone is afraid of her.” My strategy was clear: If I won over Addie, I’d impress all the relatives.
We invited them to dinner at a Thai restaurant. All 10 of the in-laws arrived, including Jameelah’s parents. Addie looked mean, like she wanted to stab someone. The room was tense. We started sitting down. “Ms. Addie,” I said, “Do you mind if I sit next to you?” She nodded. The others were shocked, wondering if I had lost my Asian mind.
Throughout the rest of the evening, I worked hard to impress Ms. Addie, including, I realized, unconsciously adopting some sort of Southern accent. Luckily, there are a couple of topics of conversations that are guaranteed to get people from Louisiana to open up. One is Bobby Jindal and how horrible he is as a governor. The other: collard greens. “Ms. Addie,” I said, “I bought some collard greens the other day, and I tried to cook ‘em, and they tasted plain awful.” “I make the best collard greens,” she said, launching into how she prepared them.
“What do you think of Bobby Jindal?” I asked. “He’s terrible,” she said. “Yeah,” I said, “I bet he hates collard greens!” We laughed. This whole time, the others were watching, completely perplexed that this mean woman was talking to me. Then I found out she was a social worker. “Whoa, you also a social worker, Ms. Addie?” I asked. “Give me five!” She slapped my hand. Jameelah’s mom nearly fell off her chair.
“Ms. Addie,” I asked, “You and Joe look like a happy couple. What’s your secret?” She smiled. “The secret is to do whatever your woman says. And don’t complain about her shopping.” For the next hour, we laughed, we joked, we complained about the social welfare system. They showed us a picture of their house, and I nearly wet my pants. They had a mansion! We talked some more, on occasion, high-fiving.
At the end of the night, everyone said goodbye. She told me to come visit any time. “I’d love to, Ms. Addie.” She looked me straight in the eyes, deadly serious. “Stop calling me Ms. Addie. You don’t call Joe ‘Mr. Joe.’” I was starting to sweat. I was so close! So close! “That’s because ‘Mr. Joe’ sounds horrible,” I said. She paused for a second, frowning, then burst out laughing. “Give me a hug,” I said, and we hugged. The other relatives stood and watched, astounded.
I learned a valuable lesson from all this. With people, especially distant relatives, we often create self-fulfilling prophecies. We think they’re mean, so we are cold to them, causing them to be mean. Or we think they’re pleasant, so we treat them nicely, and they become pleasant. Although I was trying to impress Ms. Addie by pretending to enjoy her company, at the end, I really did enjoy her company. She was nothing like her reputation. I think I will go visit her one day. And not just because I want a shot at that mansion.
An easy-to-remember website: www.Jaggednoodles.com.