August 17, 2008

与老外交流最不该说的八句话 (Taboos when talking to non-Chinese)

----- BEGIN QUOTE -----
二戒:不问财物。一个人的收入和随身所戴的财物都与个人的能力、地位、脸面等有 关。
四戒:不问住址。西方人认为给人留下住址,就得请对方到家作客。西方人是不喜欢 随便请人到家里作客的。
五戒:不问经历。这是对方的“老底”,也是商业秘密,西方人是不会轻易让人摸 到自己的底牌的。外宾认为这是不友好的盘问,是干涉别人的私生活。
----- END QUOTE -----

Westerners are not all equal. Europeans are more private. Americans are more open, especially southerners. The first two rules are correct regardless, even for young generation Chinese nowadays. But the third is not quite right. It's OK to ask "You have kids?" Not quite the same as "Are you married?" but close, although Americans may be single Moms or Dads at a higher probability than Chinese. Asking "Are you married?" sounds strange. You can ask "You have family?" That's acceptable. The fourth is very wrong. It's perfectly OK to ask "Where do you live?" or if you know he stays in a hotel, "Where do you stay?" The fifth is wrong too. You can ask "Where were you before you joined [your company name]?" or "What were you doing before you ...?" Just don't keep asking too much unless he's interviewing for a job. The rest of the rules are probably OK. Again, my observation is from an American's perspective. Europeans could be different.


yi at August 18, 2008 at 7:00 AM said...


Anonymous at March 29, 2012 at 2:25 PM said...

有回咱那秘書看咱每天中午帶飯盒, 就問咱結婚了沒. 當然一來是比較熟的同事, 二來可能她覺得咱年紀比她小(很多), 所以問問沒關係. 其實咱四十多了可能比秘書還老些. 咱是絕對不會去問同事這個, 要是別人問我, 那要看是誰問的. 秘書問問沒關係, 不對盤的咱就會回一句 "Why do you care?"

Yong Huang at March 29, 2012 at 6:58 PM said...

Indeed asking Are you married? doesn't sound as common as asking Do you have family?, or You live by yourself?. If I were the secretary or your coworker, I may ask Do you always cook yourself?, as a gentle way to start the family/marriage conversation.

Anonymous at January 8, 2017 at 2:04 PM said...

This is an insteresting blog and might be helpful in promoting understanding between Chinese citizens and the outside world. I would caution, however, against using disrespectful terms such as "老外“ to refer to non-Chinese citizens. That expression is frequently used in China to refer to black or white persons (as opposed to yellow), and therefore could be considered racist to a certain extent. A better expression would be 外国人。

An even better idea would be to avoid sino-centrism altogether and avoid terms like "foreigner" altogether. You might consider simply using "Chinese", "Japanese", "French" American, Russian, etc. instead.

Yong Huang at January 8, 2017 at 4:48 PM said...

Hi Anonymous,

Thanks for your comment. Regarding "老外", I can affirm that this word does not have a disrepectful connotation. In fact, in some contexts, it's used as a warm, dearly, respectful title. The character "老" inherently implies respect in Chinese tradition, as in "老王", "老李", unlike "old" in English which definitely does not. In most contexts, however, "老外" is neutral, equivalent to "外国人" except it's informal. In cases where these terms suggest racism, I suspect that the whole passage is racist regardless these terms; i.e., replacing them with e.g. "Chinese", "Japanese", "French" as you suggested probably does not reduce the racist tone. But it would be nice to read a specific example.

Replacing "foreigner" with the terms describing the people's specific nationality is not feasible in certain texts. How would you change the title of, say, "Registration Form for Foreigners"? There must be a general term denoting the whole group of them for the convenience of language.

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