Sunday, March 16, 2008

Directly Indirect

Before I came to China, I used to think that people in this part of the world are never direct in their conversation. The idea that people from Japan and China beat around the bush a lot more than anywhere else on the planet seems to be universal. But this never prepared me for what I would encounter here.

The Chinese are quite direct in some situations - "Oh no!! What happened?? Why did you cut your hair like this??", accompanied by a small scream and a look of complete shock.

But in other cases they are quite indirect. For example, they use "cool" when they mean weird. "I saw a boy yesterday... his hair is... very cool."
"Oh you mean the guy whose hair looks like he hasn't washed it in ages?"
"Yes, yes, him!"

They also use "strong" when they mean fat. In fact, I was actually advised by a friend that calling a girl strong would not be taken as a compliment. What else am I supposed to call a girl who beats everyone at tennis with her strong smashes?
"oh... okay..."
"Clever" or "wonderful" (apparently they are synonyms in China) is supposed to be a good compliment for almost any occasion. And compliments are free.
"Oh you are wearing so few clothes in winter. You're so wonderful!" umm...thanks. I didn't feel the need to wear my sweater to come down and buy this loaf of bread, just thought the jacket would suffice.
"You really stay up after 12 and sleep whenever you like? How wonderful! Your life is so special! You are so clever!"

Having said that, even after being here for more that 3 1/2 years, I still make mistakes. Learning is a continuos process.
S : (jovial) Hey man! How was your vacation? Looks like you had a good time back home with your family. You've put on some weight too.
R : (not smiling) Another way to say it would be - you look more strong.
S : Oh... umm... okay...

No comments: