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Foreigners that have just arrived in China will possibly discuss some topics with their Chinese friends that they feel embarrassed about and they might even feel that their privacy has been violated. Have your Chinese friends asked you any of the questions below?
1. This item of clothing of yours looks good, what brand is it? How much did it cost?
2. Is the rent expensive where you are living? How much a month?
3. I’ve heard that the pay of foreigners in China is quite high, how much do you make a month?
4. In one morning you’ve already been to the toilet five times. do you have the trots?
5. Have you put on weight recently? You should do more exercise and eat less fatty food.
The five questions above are embarrassing questions which foreign friends of mine have complained about and which they’ve been asked in China. The first three are to do with money and the last three are to do with health. In comparison with people from Europe and America the Chinese sense of privacy is relatively weak so there are no bad intentions in such questions; it’s just a way of making conversation. Conversations between friends are even more as one pleases (1). In answer to the first three questions you could just answer with some approximate figure; in general the other person won’t go into it any further. The fourth question is very interesting. In China people will tell relatively close friends and relatives that they have diarrhea (2) and won’t feel any embarrassment about it at all. The fifth question also occurs mainly between friends and stems from concern from the one party calling attention to change in body weight. After hearing it you just need to say ‘Ok, thanks for letting me know.’ (3) with a smile and that will be it.
In addition, for our foreign friends, apart from money and health, questions about politics and religion and the like and also relatively sensitive but perhaps some Chinese don’t understand this and will ask you some related questions. If you really are unwilling to discuss such questions you can tactfully convey lack of interest and I believe your Chinese friend will be understanding. Have you also been asked other embarrassing questions? You’re welcome to leave a comment on the ‘Slow Chinese’ website to share and discuss it with us.
1. 随意 and 随便 seem to be quite difficult to translate well. They are used a lot in Chinese and there doesn’t seem to be an easy English equivalent. It’s worth taking note of them as they occur and get a feel for them.
2. For any Chinese that might be reading… talking with friends we would use an expression such as ‘I have the runs’, ‘I have the trots’ – but this is very colloquial.
3. And interesting phrase – 知道了. The dictionary gives ‘ok; I’ve got it’. A pretty versatile phrase.
– Rober Budzul (firstname.lastname@example.org)
– and Zak Gray (email@example.com)