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Eid: How to handle the tough questions at family gatherings

Illustration of two parents asking their daughter questions

The holy Islamic fasting month of Ramadan is coming to an end this weekend. For many Muslims around the world, it's the one time of the year that they return to their hometowns and gather with their extended family for a catch-up and feast.

But as Christine Franciska of the BBC's Indonesian Service explains, for many young people, Eid al-Fitr's family gatherings are not as pleasant as they seem.

It's the time when aunties, uncles, and older relatives who you rarely see ask you "scary questions".

"Who's your boyfriend (or girlfriend) now?" "When are you getting married?" "Why are you looking a bit...fat?"

"It is not comfortable at all," said Indonesian Mochamad Fadly Anwar on Facebook. "And I think it crosses the line. I am like, hey mind your own business."

"Those questions are legendary..." said another user.

Image caption One way of handling the awkwardness?

Indonesian psychologist Roslina Verauli says these questions are part and parcel of collective cultures, and a way for older relatives to get close to you.

"Don't immediately think that they're pressuring you. If you have an awareness of our culture, you won't get easily offended," she says.

"We need to get together and feel close to each other. That is why we ask each other those very personal questions because we feel close to each other even though you may not have seen those relatives in 20 years, or only meet them once a year."

But this doesn't mean those questions are appropriate, she says - it can still be unpleasant discussing personal matters with people you rarely meet.

So here are guidelines from the experts on how to avoid offending one of your relatives at this year's family gatherings.

Chit chat - cliché but necessary

"How's the food?"

"Your new outfit looks fabulous!"

These are clichés, but are very useful phrases in awkward situations when you don't know much about your relative's life.

"Don't ask for details first. Ask their opinions on things," says Mrs Verauli.

"This is a bridge to move to more personal questions. If you want to get close to a relative, have your cliché questions ready for the family gathering."

Avoid asking children achievement based questions

Remember who you are talking to. You should ask different questions to relatives in different age groups.

When chatting with children, Mrs Verauli explains, ask them about their activities and hobbies.

"Don't ask 'did you win that competition last month?'. It will hurt them, because for elementary school children, questions about achievement and if they're doing well at school are sensitive questions."

How about teenagers?

"Don't ask 'do you have a boyfriend or girlfriend'. They are sure to be very shy answering that even if they have one," says Mrs Verauli.

"Whether they are dating and if they are popular with their peers are important matters for teenagers and is a sensitive issue best avoided."

For young adults, marriage questions are a no-no, as are questions about jobs and wages especially for those who feel they haven't met the expectations of their family or culture.

"In an early adulthood (20-30 year olds) starting a career and having a spouse are some of the expected things they should have achieved by that age. If you ask them directly about this, it could hurt them."

But asking about the career of your relatives in their 30s and 40s is a good one, because at that stage, usually, their career is more stable, she adds.

As for your elderly relatives, start by talking about positive things such as their health and their "youthful" appearance. Talking about sickness makes them sad, points out Mrs Verauli.

How to answer?

So what if you get questions like the dreaded "are you getting married?"

Psychologist Pingkan Rumondor from Bina Nusantara University says the best way to respond is to smile and tell the truth.

"Answer it as comfortably as you can. If you feel like it's too personal, just simply smile and say I don't know, and try to get away."

"There is no obligation to answer."

You can read the news in Bahasa on the BBC Indonesian website

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