Imagine you are having some chit-chat with a Chinese lady you met some five minutes ago at a bus station, and she is asking you normal questions like “Where are you from?” and “How long have you studied Chinese?”. And then suddenly she goes: “Do you have a girlfriend/boyfriend?”, “Do you want to have a Chinese boyfriend/girlfriend?” “How much do you earn?” These questions are a bit too personal, aren’t they? How do you respond? What do you do? What an awkward situation…
Well, that’s exactly what happened to me during my first ever trip to China. Just a few hours after I landed in Shanghai, I was lost at a bus station and asked someone for help. The lady was very nice; she helped me buy a ticket and then we had a chat while waiting for a bus. I was so excited to talk to a native Chinese speaker! Wow, I could understand her and she understood me! I had this amazing feeling that all those Chinese classes and hours of studying were not wasted.
And then came the questions about boyfriends, marriage, salary…To be honest, I did not know how to answer those. It’s pretty private information to share with a person you just met at a bus station. Yet these questions are just a few examples of uncomfortable questions Chinese people ask. Such awkward questions are very common.
More often than not, foreigners get frustrated and even offended by these awkward questions. But it is very easy to get the wrong idea if you don’t understand the culture. Learning any foreign language is indivisible from gaining an understanding of that country’s customs and beliefs. As a student of Mandarin, you should be aware of these differences and try to understand Chinese culture and the reasons behind people’s questions and behaviour.
In this article, I’ll introduce the most common awkward questions and explain the reason behind them.
QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR AGE
– How old are you?
- 你多大了？ (Nǐ duōdàle?)
- 你多少岁啊？ (Nǐ duōshǎo suì a?)
- 你是几几年出生的？ (Nǐ shì jǐ jǐ nián chūshēng de?)
This is one of the most common questions. While in some parts of the world it is considered a rude one, in China no one wants to offend you! A Chinese person will ask your age not only out of curiosity, but this question has a deeper cultural meaning: age defines how people address each other. “大哥”( dà gē)/ “哥”(gē) or “大姐”( dà jiě)/ “姐”( jiě), “小哥哥”( xiǎo gē ge) or “小姐姐”( xiǎo jiějie) – these are common ways to address someone you know, and the word you choose is related to the age difference between the speakers.
QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP AND FAMILY
- 你有男朋友/女朋友吗？(Nǐ yǒu nán péngyǒu/nǚ péngyǒu ma?)
Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?
- 你想结婚吗？ (Nǐ xiǎng jiéhūn ma?)
Are you planning to get married?
- 你结婚了吗？ (Nǐ jiéhūnle ma?)
Are you married?
- 你有孩子吗？ (Nǐ yǒu háizi ma?)
Do you have kids?
- 你怎么不要孩子？ (Nǐ zěnme bùyào háizi?)
Why don’t you have kids?
- 你打算生孩子吗？ (Nǐ dǎsuàn shēng háizi ma?)
Do you plan to have kids?
- 你还想再生一个吗？ (Nǐ hái xiǎng zàishēng yīgè ma?)
Do you want to have another one?
Feel a bit awkward even just reading these questions? Well, imagine them being asked by a stranger during casual chit-chat. These questions are so common that you are very unlikely to avoid them, but don’t get frustrated or angry. As with other questions on this list, Chinese people do not want to embarrass you. Actually, they care about you. Family, marriage and children have always been important in Chinese culture and society; they are the insurance for a stable life. Without them, one is left alone to face all the troubles and uncertainties of the world. So by asking you these questions and giving advice on getting married sooner, Chinese people express their concern for you. They treat you as a friend (even if you met them 5 minutes ago) and worry about your future.
QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR BODY
- 你怎么那么瘦？ (Nǐ zěnme nàme shòu?) Why so skinny?
- 你多重啊？ (Nǐ duōchóng a?) Did you gain weight?
- 你脸色怎么那么苍白？ (Nǐ liǎnsè zěnme nàme cāngbái?) Why so pale?
- 你身体怎么样？ (Nǐ shēntǐ zěnme yàng?) Are you healthy?
Questions about one’s health are another set of the most common ones. And again, don’t take them personally! Health is an extremely important concept in Chinese culture, and in Chinese traditions, it reflects the harmony between complementary energies, yin and yang. Nowadays, most Chinese people are actually very comfortable with the duality between western and traditional Chinese health beliefs, yet some issues, which they see as “imbalances,” indicate health issues. Health questions show that the person sees you as a friend, and as your friend, they want to know if you are ok or need help.
QUESTIONS ABOUT MONEY
- 你赚多少钱啊？(Nǐ zhuàn duōshǎo qián a?) How much money do you make?
- 你工资是多少？ (Nǐ gōngzī shì duōshǎo?) What is your salary?
Almost every professional working in China gets this question. The wealth gap between the poor and the rich in China makes many wonders what their place is in the income pyramid. Knowing how much money others earn gives you an idea of average income across different spheres. So this question is something like a Glassdoor salary check. Moreover, if your salary is lower than the average, your Chinese friend would push you to ask for raise!
So hopefully now you won’t get frustrated when getting these personal questions and won’t put the Chinese people asking them on the “rude list.”
Share your thoughts on the article with us. Did I forget any awkward questions? Tell us! :)