I guess that Helen and I were boyfriend and girlfriend at the time that I first met her parents. This might sound like a classically vague, male, thing to say, but we never actually discussed it; we just started being together for a lot of the time.
But, the first time that I went to meet William and Audrey – and Karen and Stephen, her siblings – we must have been boyfriend and girlfriend because (1) I remember kissing on the sofa when the family left us alone for a moment and (2) I took her some underwear that I had bought that day whilst I had been at another job interview.
I remember only a few other things about that evening. One is actually meeting Karen and Stephen, who reacted in very different ways that, with hindsight, revealed very well the sort of people they would turn out to be – Karen being bubbly and outgoing, Steve being reserved and undemonstrative.
The second would be the only conversation that I had with William. He asked if I played chess. I replied with the honest “Very badly” and that was about as far as the conversation went – which was probably for the best, as both he and Steve were very good players and, at that time, I had only won three games in my life.
The third memory would be Audrey telling Helen in Cantonese to do up another button on her blouse. I suppose I might have been looking too earnestly at her chest, but in fairness I had just bought it a new bra.
The final thing, though, would be the food. Helen’s parents were chefs and had their own restaurant (in fairness to William, I should mention that one of the reasons that he and I hardly spoke was because he had to go off to work). This was my first encounter with ‘real’ Chinese food, from the magical cheung fun (like cannelloni, but made using rice which had been soaked into a paste and then rolled) to pie gwut, a form of spare ribs, to a range of vegetables I had never seen before, it was new, exotic and very far removed from anything I had tried before. There are many reasons to remember the first time that you met your in-laws. I think that I found the best one.