Recently, my friend Jenny wrote an article about things foreigners in China are tired of hearing. Can you guess the number one response?
“Your Chinese is so good!
(nǐ zhōngwén zhēn hǎo!)”
As the article states, a foreigner need only say “你好(nǐhǎo)” to garner a “你中文真好!” reply, making the compliment sound less than sincere. But foreigners aren’t the only ones hearing the same exhausted comments and questions. The article got me thinking about the top phrases Chinese people are tired of hearing from foreigners. Let’s talk about that today.
1. (You are Chinese,) You must be good at…
You know kungfu, right?
(Nǐ huì gōngfu ba?)
You know how to play Ping-Pong, right?
(Nǐ huì dǎ pīngpāngqiú ma?)
You must be good at math.
(Nǐ shùxué hěn hǎo ba!)
No, no, not at all. Hollywood may show us a fake America, but it also inaccurately exoticizes other countries, especially China. Even in China, Kung-fu is a mysterious art. There are people who practice and master it, but they are few in the grand scheme of things. Please stop asking me to perform Kungfu and Fan Dancing!
2. Do you eat dog meat? Where can I find it if I want to try?
Do you eat dog meat?
(Nǐ chī gǒuròu ma?)
Where can you eat dog meat?
(Nǎli kěyǐ chī dào gǒuròu?)
It’s true that some people eat dog meat or other foods you would consider strange, but it depends on where they live. Increasingly many people in China raise dogs as pets. Of course these such people wouldn’t consider Fido for food. In cities like Beijing and Shanghai, you rarely find a standard restaurant selling dog meat anymore.
3. How do you learn English?
How do you learn English?
(Nǐ zěnme xué yīng yǔ de?)
Why do you want to learn English?
(Nǐ wèishénme yào xué yīngyǔ?)
Perhaps due to underdeveloped language education programs in the U.S., this kind of question is usually from my American friends. In most East Asian countries, English is a required class at school. The classes usually start from elementary school and continue on through college, with college students needing to pass a special English language test to graduate. So no matter whether I like it or not, I have to learn. It’s just like you being required to learn math in school.
4. One-child-policy questions.
Do you want a brother or sister?
(Nǐ xiǎng yào xiōng dì jiě mèi ma?)
If you have twins, will the government take one of them?
(Rúguǒ huái le shuāng bāo tāi, zhèngfǔ huì bàozǒu yī gè ma?)
I understand the now-defunct “One Child Policy” seems weird to outsiders. Everyone is curious about it; I get it, but it’s really annoying to answer these questions again and again. Most of us are used to one child families. As a policy, of course, some people are against it and some for it, but it’s not weird or important in our everyday lives. And if you have twins, then you have them. No one will take one away. We’re not barbarians! (As a side note, the policy was recently amended. Now we can have two children.)
Thinking about these top things Chinese people are tired of hearing from our foreign friends, it’s clear to me that the most important thing is getting rid of stereotypes. Americans don’t only eat hamburgers, and not all Chinese people eat dog meat. We are all citizens of the same planet!