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Chinese for Dummies – written by Dummies?

January 16, 2008 – 5:21 pm

I just came across an article on the fordummies website. Fordummies publishes these books like “internet for dummies”.

The article dubbed Ten things Never to Do in China tries to tell You what is not acceptable in China. It tries. But it fails. The problem with this article is a general one. I will point it out in the Conclusion paragraph. But let’s go through their ten points first:

Never accept a compliment graciously

I’ve been in China and most times when someone complimented me I replied:

- Exactly.
- I know.
- You’re right.
- Of course.

You can even do this in Chinese:

那当然 nà dāngrán – Of course!

People will love You and feel that You are a funny person. They will like to stick around You.

Never make someone loose his face

Everyone deserves what he dishes out. Dear ForDummies, this is not only true in China, but also in the West. So if other people in China respekt You, You should respect them too. On the other hand, if they don’t it’s not necessary that You do.

Never get angry in public

Dear ForDummies, this is another one that is not only true in China, but also in the Western World. You don’t tell us any news. Getting angry just shows You have a low self confidence.

Never address people by their first names first

If they are Your personal friends, there is no need to use family names. Anyways Chinese people will often tell You their western name, so don’t have to worry anyway.

Never take food with the wrong end of your chopsticks

This one is like telling the Chinese people: “Don’t use the wrong side of Your spoon to eat the soup in the West!”

Never drink alcohol without first offering a toast

Chinese people really want to see You drunk at a party. They will toast You with GanBei-s until either party lies under the table. So no need to toast first at all. The toasts will come to You, just reply happily with an GanBei.

Never let someone else pay the bill without fighting for it

This one seems like only to exist in the books. Never encountered that one in China. Maybe because we are students. Everyone had to pay a turn once in a while.

Never show up empty handed

Yeah presents are cool. When You are invited to a person’s house who You are not very connected to, then bring a small present. Preferably something You brought from Your homecountry.

Never accept food, drinks, or gifts without first refusing a few times

Although some people claim otherwise, the Chinese are indeed honest. You can take their offers.

Never take the first “No, thank you” literally

Finally ForDummies is on the money. If a Chinese says no thanx, then it may be like this. They are old enough to decide by themselves. However leave them a chance changing their opinion:

Me: Do You want some fries?
Chinese person: No, thank You.
Me: Tell me if You change Your mind.

Or another situation:

Me: I’m going to kiss You now.
Chinese woman: No!
Me kisses her.

Conclusion: a general problem

Seems like ForDummies should go to China first. But the problem described here is a general one. Textbooks show You the politest form of behaving. While You won’t offend anyone by acting this way, others will not know Your personality. They will even keep distance to You because You don’t appear natural to them. So here is my advice for China:

  1. Be real
  2. Be honest
  3. If You feel You have to say something, say it
  4. Don’t be over polite
  5. Have confidence in Yourself and follow Your feelings

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