Ask an Asian: A Korean Grandmothers’s Unauthorized Visits

(Every so often, we here at 8Asians get e-mails asking for advice. Here is someone — let’s call her “M” — asking for advice on how to deal with her intruding grandmother-in-law.)

Could you and your fellow 8Asians contributors help me out? I have a question about Korean culture. First, a little background…

I am Canadian-born-and-raised Chinese, married to a Canadian-born-and-raised Korean.

Last Thursday, I was home alone with our two kids, eating lunch downstairs in the basement. I heard the front door open and close upstairs, and then some thumping sounds, like someone taking off their shoes. I thought my husband had come home to get something and then head off to work again so I didn’t pay any attention. But then the noises continued and I wondered if someone had broken in to rob my house.

I went upstairs to the main floor to investigate and saw some pairs of unfamiliar shoes in the front foyer. I heard some voices upstairs on the second floor so I climbed the stairs to find that my husband’s grandmother had not only let herself in, but she’d brought a couple of friends and were giving them a tour of our house. They were poking around the bedrooms when I found them and they were surprised and embarrassed that I discovered them. I was completely shocked but, being Asian, greeted them politely and let them finish showing themselves around. After they got their fill of our house, they all left together.

I later learned that my grandmother-in-law had called our house but nobody answered (I hadn’t heard the phone ring because I was in the basement). She was visiting (from Toronto, which is 1 hour away from where we live) and staying with her daughter (my husband’s aunt) who lives 2 streets away from us and who has a key to our house in case of emergency. Anyway, thinking no one was home at our house, my grandmother-in-law decided to help herself to the emergency key and let herself and her two friends in for a look-see.

The house was a complete disaster, by the way, because I have two little preschool-aged kids and zero time to clean. I was completely humiliated that these strangers were looking at my dirty/messy house and absolutely infuriated at my grandmother-in-law.

Needless to say, my husband got an earful when he got home. He did tell his grandmother that what she did was wrong, but then he tried to explain to me that it’s normal for her to do what she did because it’s normal in Korean culture to do stuff like that. He said that Korean grandmothers go into their children’s and grandchildren’s homes all the time and that I need to be more understanding.

Now, I have witnessed and heard about my grandmother-in-law violating boundaries in MANY cases. It seems a habit for her. This was the third time she violated a boundary involving me, but I let the first two incidents slide. This was the biggest violation and pissed me off the most. I think she’s just an individual who behaves badly and her relatives excuse her behaviour, using Korean culture as the excuse.

My husband has told me at least four or five times that this issue of her coming into our house without permission is not really an issue because it’s normal in Korean culture. I disagree (like I said before, I think she just plain old misbehaves), but don’t know enough Korean people (who aren’t related to my husband) to ask, “Hey, does your grandmother make unauthorized visits to your house and show her friends around while she’s there?”

So, sorry for this long email, but can you help me? I would very much like to know if what my husband’s grandmother did is normal for Korean culture, or if she is just a good example of bad behaviour.

So yeah, rummaging through the stuff and property of your offspring: cultural thing or is she batshit insane?

(Flickr photo credit – and apologies — to Sukanto Debnath)

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