Chinese In-Laws and the USA

We landed safely at SFO this morning. Some thoughts/tips about the trip so far.

The flight (on United Airlines):

  • Some of the flight attendants can get irritated with people who don’t speak English
  • Some have not even tried to pick-up basic words (such as careful, coffee, tea) in Chinese
  • Just because a flight attendant is Asian doesn’t mean that they like/tolerate Chinese
  • The same flight attendants perhaps won’t distribute the proper forms (see below)
  • Try to sit reasonably close to the in-laws just in case you need to help them through this


  • It is okay for US Citizens to go in the line for people who are not US Citizens
  • Anyone traveling on a US Visa will need to fill out an I-94 Form
  • If you try to fill-out the I-94 forms in the airport, you might find there are tables which only have the forms in Spanish
  • Each family (which includes you, your spouse, and their parents) should  fill-out a single Customs Declaration Form
  • The entire family will be interviewed by the customs agent together
  • Each non-resident family member will be required to put their right-hand (fingers together) on a scanner
  • They will also be required to have their picture taken
  • You should accompany them through this process (see the first item in the list)

One important thing to talk about here is that I think it is fairly typical for folks in China to argue with police and other authority figures when there are problems or disagreements. It should be stressed that this doesn’t work too well in the US… especially when dealing with customs agents. Well, I’ll just say anyone carrying a sidearm (which, unlike for customs agents in China, is standard issue in the US).

Some points about Customs Declaration Form:

  • If you have one form, with the US national having filled it out, the family can usually just exit to the right when leaving the baggage area at SFO (or left if connecting)
  • If not, foreign nationals might need to go through an intensive search of their luggage for any quarantined items
  • US residents are allowed an $800 exemption on gifts and such being brought into the US; non-residents are allowed only $100
    Yet another reason to have only one form with the US resident having filled it out


  • Spend time before the trip talking about food that is available before the trip and reviewing menus online
  • Discuss how food is served in the US (mostly over-sized single portions instead of family style dishes)
  • Make sure the family knows how to use forks and knives correctly
  • Discuss the differences in dining etiquette between China and US

For example, although noodle-based dishes are customarily loudly slurped into an open mouth hovering just inches above the plate in China, doing so with spaghetti in an Italian restaurant in the US is probably not a good thing. It is much better to cut the noodles with a fork and knife, twirl them around the fork, and lift them into the mouth.

I just found a page called United States Dining Etiquette Guide, which looks to be pretty good (Mr. Manners I certainly am not!). It would be really cool if this were available in Chinese.

On a more personal note, it is absolutely wondrous to be bringing Shanshan’s parents to the US for the first time. Not only because I admire them so much as people, but because I have some (limited) understanding of what immense changes they’ve seen during their lifetimes.