In my country in East Asia, it is extremely impolite if I don't do it when I have this information.

However, the US and the EU are known to be more "professional", in my humble opinion. So, in the US, is asking the advisor about his father generally considered "impolite" or "unprofessional" from a professional point of view?

  • 11
    We don't do that in India too...at least it's not considered impolite if you don't go. So India is different from Asia.
    – user102868
    Commented Dec 22, 2019 at 14:03
  • 18
    I'm not even sure this is true throughout East Asia. Which countries are you talking about (both where you're coming from and where you're at)?
    – Kimball
    Commented Dec 22, 2019 at 16:04
  • 11
    Not if you don't have a very personal (non-professional) relationship with the father. At first the question sounded strange but since you come from a certain culture the question made sense. I still say no no as an answer if you live in the west. I knew a Priest who died. I only visited the Reqiem Mass and also went to his grave. This is all you need.
    – Hank
    Commented Dec 22, 2019 at 16:15
  • 12
    My U.S. father didn't even go to see his own beloved advisor on his deathbed, feeling it would be an intrusion to the advisor and his family. Commented Dec 23, 2019 at 4:16
  • 6
    I'm not sure if it's true in East Asia. I don't think anyone besides family members came when my own grandmother was on the deat bed.
    – xuq01
    Commented Dec 23, 2019 at 5:54

6 Answers 6


Unless you have some direct relationship with his father, this is not something we'd normally do in US, UK, or Australian culture. (I'm not sure if it's the same everywhere in the EU.)

A polite option might be to tell your advisor something like "I'm very sorry to hear about your father, please let me know if there is anything I can do."

If your advisor is from a different culture, that might change things.

  • 88
    That is the perfect thing to say to your supervisor. Absolutely do not go to visit. In the US and the EU, a visit would be interpreted as you interrupting a time that is meant for family and close friends. Would your supervisor's father want a stranger seeing him at his most vulnerable time? Unless you know your supervisor's father well and independently consider him a friend, your presence would be considered very strange. Commented Dec 22, 2019 at 6:51
  • I’d add a note that (at least in the Netherlands) if you’re close friends with your supervisor it would change the situation. Coming to a funeral of someone you don’t know is acceptable pretty much only if you’re good friends with someone very close to the deceased. Commented Dec 23, 2019 at 6:50
  • 15
    @SebastiaanvandenBroek, coming to the funeral, yes. If you're close with friends you come to comfort those friends and it's very much appreciated even. But coming to their death bed, no, in the Netherlands that's something between the person and their loved ones
    – patrick
    Commented Dec 23, 2019 at 9:30
  • 4
    @patrick you’re totally right, not sure how I even interpreted this as going to the funeral. Death bed is definitely a no. Commented Dec 23, 2019 at 9:51

The situation is the same in the EU as it is in the US. You should generally not go visit unless you are close to your supervisor's father personally.

If your supervisor has let you know about their father's situation, a reply similar to the one in Geoffrey Brent's answer is a good way to go. If you want to show polite interest, you can after some time casually ask about it, but quickly drop the topic if your supervisor replies vaguely or not at all.

  • My boss's wife's father passed away. I never met the guy. But we all met his wife. The whole team went to the funeral to show support.
    – Anemoia
    Commented Dec 23, 2019 at 21:46
  • 3
    @snake The question is about visiting while they are still alive, not about funerals.
    – JBentley
    Commented Dec 25, 2019 at 0:04

I agree with other answers. Having said that, if the father does pass away, and if it is in the same town, you may want to go to the memorial service or funeral, as this is a way to show support for the living. Going with a group of students would also be fine.

  • 3
    Going to the funeral would be ok if the family specifically offers to... Commented Dec 24, 2019 at 13:51

To the excellent answers above, let me add that the situation is also the same in Russia, Georgia, Norway and Iceland. This previously posted answer would also be great there.

Please don't take this the wrong way, but I find it strange that you have to post this question on this site. Are there no local friends you could talk to? (If there is a different reason you ask this question, please see this comment as void.)

  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Much of this discussion focused on the last paragraph; it is now clear that OP wants to leave it in place.
    – cag51
    Commented Dec 24, 2019 at 2:21

No, you shouldn't go to see your advisor's father, as per other answers.

The western equivalent is the sympathy card sent to your advisor (if you were very close to your advisor and had met the father in person before, you might send one to the father, too). A card with a short, handwritten note expressing your sympathy for the difficult time your advisor is going to. Stick to a serious card with a simple message. Avoid "get well" cards if there's a strong possibility that the father won't get well, but also avoid talking about loss or death since the father has not yet died. Avoid anything overtly religious, unless you know that your advisor is religious.

And if the father does die, then you should definitely send a card (a condolences card), plus there may be an office/department card, and possibly everyone will chip in to buy a flower arrangement for the funeral. The department may announce it, or you may have to ask the department secretary if any group thing is being planned.


I must offer a somewhat different answer. I will add that I agree with other answers that it is atypical, but we don’t know your relationship with your advisor or their family. This said, the following is going to assume you haven’t met their father. I disagree that you should absolutely avoid doing this and therefore must present that POV.

Depending on how you approach the matter, you may visit the loved one of someone that has been so influential on your life, such as an advisor.

If doing so, I would:

  • first stage the reason for your visit; talk about your background and the customs of your country:
    “I understand this may be atypical in the [US?]; however, in my country it isn’t uncommon and considered a good gesture to... [visit members of coworkers and employers out of respect?]”
  • I would also add some sentiment or attachment to legacy or indirect impact the person you’re visiting has had on your life, that might raise their spirits:
    “I wanted to let you know how much your [son?] has impacted my life as my advisor. I know you mean a lot to [him] and without his help and guidance, I might be lost. His continued support and tolerance is a debt I may never be able to repay. I thought you should know the impact your [son] has had on my life.”

Now, I wouldn’t just show up out of the blue. I might also run the customs of your country by your advisor. First express your case and get their approval and ask for when a good time to visit may be. If you do visit, keep it short and sweet. People generally in an uncomfortable position don’t like like talking with people they don’t know.

One other note: although the common culture in developed countries does not do this, that does not mean that they didn’t in the past. The older generation sometimes have a better understanding of these customs and often welcome these gestures. To them, their life has passed by and they’re biding their time. They tell their stories to strangers on a park bench and they come from a time where boys swam together naked in gym class and guys openly changed in locker rooms - perhaps two weird examples for me to present, but they are striking difference that demonstrate how sensitivities have intensified in modern culture and just because “we” think something is indecent, does not mean it is to the subject.

Good luck with your decision. It is ultimately your decision and you must weigh your mind and your heart, which you’re doing a good job already simply by asking the question here.

  • 3
    Just as a very much off-topic side remark: your criteria make contemporary Germany clearly an undeveloped country. In addition to swim naked (if we're talking about the lake in the woods, and that's a mixed lake). So is the sauna: just as naked and often mixed as well. School gyms, public swimming pools and sports clubs typically have in female/male versions of lockers and shower rooms, but inside they're one for all, no booths/stalls. (We do have toilet stalls, though.)
    – cbeleites
    Commented Dec 22, 2019 at 20:45
  • 1
    @cbeleitessupportsMonica I think your comment reinforces cultural differences. I was on a mobile device and limited for time when answering, but there are plenty of “open” locker rooms in the US. I think high schoolers are a little more apprehensive to exposure these days. I don’t want to be absolute in this statement, but I know during the 50s and 60s swimming naked in grade school (standing in line, while waiting your turn) was more common. I don’t know for sure that doesn’t happen in some part of the US, but major cities would be up in arms if their children were ever naked in grade school.
    – vol7ron
    Commented Dec 22, 2019 at 22:08
  • Were the naked 50s and 60s swimming classes co-ed? School swimming in Germany is not naked (and it is co-ed). Re apprehensive to exposure: IMHO that is naturally depending on age. But if the locker room is one for all, that's how it is - and at highschool age everyone turned face to wall to change.
    – cbeleites
    Commented Dec 22, 2019 at 22:30
  • 1
    @cbeleitessupportsMonica girls would swim separately and they were issued swimsuits by the school that were skin tight. I should also comment that this wasn’t only to grade school. It applied clear up through high school. Spit out gum, strip down, take shower, get in line for pool, wait along side of pool and watch, wait for turn. There was nothing sexual or taboo about it.
    – vol7ron
    Commented Dec 23, 2019 at 0:42

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