My girlfriend whose family hails from Hong Kong has recently lost her grandfather, and her family is in a period of mourning. Being an "outsider" of the family, how should I act/behave when visiting her family?

I'm aware there are certain rules to follow, but i'm just not sure where I stand in case I offend them (i've heard of some families being insulted by "outsiders" taking part in business that has nothing to do with them).

I just want to help them get through this tough loss, and be as respectful as possible. I've googled around but I am sure there is something I am missing. I wasn't sure whether or not to bring roses (valentines day), or if we can still celebrate her birthday (she said we might not be allowed).

Sorry if this is question is posted in the wrong place.

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    I am sure your girlfriend is the best reference you could get. Ask her about what you can do and what you should best avoid doing. E.g. (red) roses might have a different meaning and from what I read between the lines about not celebrating her birthday might be seen as inappropriate in this situation. In Chinese culture the color of mourning is white.
    – mts
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 13:05
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    @mts hi mts, the issue being is that she is a 2nd generation immigrant (child born in a different country to the parents homeland). Because of this, she is unaware of quite a few cultural etiquettes and just tells me to take it easy most of the time (she unconsciously follows them herself, so doesn't realise why I put effort trying to learn them!). This is also the first death in the family in this country for them, so it's all going a bit slowly, and old traditions from the elder family members are being followed even though they are usually quite relaxed about day-to-day etiquette. Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 13:12
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    As a person coming from a Hong Kong background, it really depends on the family and their traditions. In most cases if you're an outsider and non-Asian, just keep your manners and be respectful. Your best bet is to ask your girlfriend to find out what their family tradition is and respect it.
    – LampPost
    Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 21:08

1 Answer 1


I don't think it will be an issue, especially because you are accompanying someone who is a family member. I have also been invited to attend funerals for people I am not actually related to, and it hasn't been a problem. In fact I was often made to feel very welcome.

At these sorts of occasions I tend to wait for an invitation from someone before I join in with any of the ceremonial activities. That way you won't cause any offence to anyone by doing anything that might be inappropriate.

Wear sombre colours, avoid bright colours especially red, because to the Chinese red represents happiness. You can wear white yourself, but make sure your clothes are not patterned or embroidered.

If the person who died was older than 80, then there are exceptions to this, and you might see some people wearing pink or some shades of red. But this is only if that person died a natural death which wasn't the result of an accident.

Lastly, when you leave you might be given a sweet and a piece of red thread. Make sure that you eat the sweet, and take the thread with you. Don't put them down or leave them behind. In fact you are supposed to tie the thread to your own doorknob when you get home.

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