Dear Mr. Know-It-All, I’m staying with my Chinese mother-in-law for Chinese New Year, and I don’t know what to do! How do I stay on her good side over the holidays? – Holiday Panic Want to be in good standing with your Chinese family? Here are just a few CNY traditions you should become familiar with. The more of these you know, the more face you stand to gain—or at least, the less face you’ll lose. It’s a downward slope. No books. Sorry, readers. The word for “book” sounds the same as the verb to “to lose,” so stay away. That means kids don’t have to study either. On the bright side: there’s no injunction against other reading materials, so picking up an issue of HK Magazine is fine. Bathe in pomelo leaves. Two nights before CNY, wash yourself with pomelo leaves—they’re available in markets all over town. The leaves are meant to wash away bad luck before the new year. Don’t mention shoes. Because the word for shoes, “hai,” sounds like an exasperated sigh. Also: don’t buy shoes for the first month of CNY, for the same reason. Don’t cut your hair. This applies to the first through the third day of CNY. (Good luck finding a hairdresser who’s open these three days anyway.) Don’t wash your hair. Certainly not on the first day of CNY: you’ll wash your new year’s luck away. Eat dried oysters. “Ho si” sounds like the Cantonese for “a good thing.” Best paired with black moss, known as “fat choi.” Whether you think dried oysters and black moss is actually a prosperous thing, is another matter entirely. Here’s a final tip: Want to really get on your relatives’ bad side? Learn this Chinese children’s chant: 恭喜發財, 利是逗來, 伍毫嫌少, 壹蚊唔愛—“kung hei fat choi, lai see dau loi, mm ho yeem siu, yut mun mm oi.” It means: “Wish you wealth, turn over your lai see, 50 cents is way too little, don’t want $1 either.” Words to melt a mother-in-law’s heart.