10 questions foreigners like to ask Chinese people

| May 23rd, 2013

Living in China, there are some questions I hear over and over again: "Do you like China?", "Doesn’t America have so many guns?", and "How much does an iPhone cost?", for example. What about Chinese people who go abroad? What kinds of repetitive–and sometimes silly–questions do foreigners like to ask them?

In January, a writer for Aboluowang.com, a Chinese news site, wrote about the top 10 questions that foreigners like to ask Chinese people abroad. Here is the article translated:

The 10 Questions Foreigners Most Like to Ask Chinese People

1. Which is your family name, which is your personal name?

The way Chinese people do it, family name is first and personal name is last. It’s very logical. But Western people do not do it that way. The put the personal name first and the family name last. So, when foreigners see a Chinese person’s name, they don’t recognize which is which, and they ask: Which is your family name, and which is your personal name? The answer naturally is: The first part of my name is my family name, and the later part is my personal name. But don’t think it’s this simple. Using English to explain is troublesome, and foreigners will still be confused. So these days, a lot of Chinese people will simply reverse the order of their name when they go abroad and introduce themselves.

2. Are you unhappy?

I remember that time I went to France. At the Charles de Gaulle airport, a friend picked me up. He was "bearing his teeth and hands." He even kissed me. His exaggerated actions were like he had not seen me in lifetimes. Although my two eyes are watering, but I’m just shaking hands, and on my face, you can see tears streaming down. This causes foreigners to be bewildered: Are you unhappy? How can I explain to a foreigner? Chinese people say, "It is always a pleasure to greet a friend from afar." It mainly refers to a feeling of pleasure but not the outer manifestations of laughing and joking. Of course there are always exceptions. I have one friend who loves to talk and joke, always flourishing facial expressions. Although he has dark eye color, black hair, and yellow skin, but foreigners always ask her if she is American or Latin American or from some other country.

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3. Does dog meat taste good?

When I got to France, some French people asked me: Does dog meat taste good? When I first left China, I didn’t know this pitfall of a question existed. No matter how I answered, I would be admitting that eating dog meat is a fact, and this was precisely their intent. In these foreigners’ viewpoint, dog is man’s loyal friend. How can you treat it as food!? It is hard to tell foreigners, although dogs can be seen in China watching the house, doing police work, and accompanying their owner, their status is not so high, and their reputation isn’t so good. For example, when Chinese people are belittling other people, they will often say, "a dog threatens under a master’s power (狗仗人势)," "running dog (走狗)," "smelly dog shit (臭狗屎)," etc. With this cultural background, eating this "dog stuff" meat isn’t considered anything bad. Of course, in front of foreigners, don’t boast about shark fin or birds nest soup, to prevent the charges of cruelty to animals.

4. Do you have "guanxi"?

The Chinese word "relationships" (guanxi) has become one of the few Chinese words to enter the Western vocabulary. Once when I was applying for a job at an export company, the company personal director asked me in a mysterious voice: "In China, do you have ‘guanxi’?" Actually, Westerners and Chinese people both speak about relationships. One of my American friends told me that starting in elementary school, Americans learn about "KISSING-UP," which is like the Chinese phrase "to smooth whiskers and pat a horse’s bottom (溜须拍马)," with the intent of pleasing the teacher and pulling guanxi, so they can get a better grade. A Chinese-American friend tried to convince me that what the Chinese call "guanxi," in the eyes of Americans, isn’t the same as their idea of "relationships." He raised an example: Suppose Bill Gates recommended a young man for a job at another computer company. If it is an American company, the American boss will think, this man was introduced by Gates; he must be a quality candidate. On the other hand, if it is a Chinese company, the Chinese boss will think, this man was introduced by Gates; if I do not hire him, then he will lose face.

5. Why is Chinese so hard?

A lot of foreigners are interested in Chinese culture and want to study Chinese. But after trying the "ma, ma, ma, ma" [saying "ma" in each of the 4 tones of Chinese], they, frustrated, say: "Why is Chinese this hard?" Foreigners think Chinese is really hard, but there are also serious psychological barriers for foreigners studying Chinese. In foreign vocabulary, the word "Chinese" often indicates something that is impervious to reason or something that looks fresh [interesting] but doesn’t have any actual value. In English, there is the phrase "Chinese puzzle," which describes something cryptic and difficult to understand. "Chinese boxes" are a set of boxes of varying sizes with small boxes fit inside the bigger one, a Chinese toy, and now this phrase is an allusion to complexity. The phrase "Chinese copy" refers to the shortcomings and defects of something that is a replicated copy. I remember once when I was studying in France, we were taking a test, and after the test was passed out, I could hear a classmate next to me faintly say "C’EST DU CHINOIS" ("This is Chinese to me!").

6. Do you know kung fu?

Walking down the street in a foreign country, from time to time some foreigners will, for no reason at all, suddenly approach you throwing out hands and kicking feet. From their mouth vaguely comes the words "kungfu" or "Jackie Chan." So this is some kungfu fans who want to practice and learn from a Chinese person. If we start to talk, their first question is: "Do you know kung fu?" In a lot of foreigners eyes, Chinese people start practicing kungfu as a child. Although, we can’t necessarily leap onto roofs and vault over walls like Jackie Chan, [these people think] if we run into some thugs, we can more than handle them. Once when I went to Tanzania for business, after eating dinner, I wanted to take a walk on the streets of Dar es Salaam. Before going out, I asked the hotel security staff if it’s dangerous. That black man looked at me and said: If you are out there, then it won’t be dangerous. The locals think that all Chinese people are martial artists, so no one will dare provoke us.

20130523-questions-03

7. Do you have qing liang cooling oil (清凉油)?

Thinking about what to bring when preparing to go abroad requires lots of thought. Aside from daily necessities, you should also bring some special souvenirs to give to foreign friends. For example, double-sided embroidery, folding fans, stamps, and the like can be regarded as good choices. In my experience, it is best to also bring some containers of qing liang oil. I don’t know why, but in foreign countries, qing liang oil is not produced, and there are almost no stores that import it and sell it. Foreigners ordinarily prefer mint flavor, but qing liang oil is refreshing and good for removing itch, and is especially popular in Asia, Africa, and Latin American countries. A lot of foreigners see a Chinese person and ask: "Do you have qing liang oil?" I have a friend who went to a small Latin American country recently. When [he or she] was at customs, the customs officer looked at the passport, confirmed they were a Chinese person, and suddenly extended his hand and said, as if he was requesting extra documents: "Qing liang oil…" This friend pulled out a tin of qing liang oil for their bag and gave it to him and went through customs easily. Everyone was happy.

8. When did Beijing "change its name"?

When I go abroad, there are always foreigners who ask when did "Peking" (the old English spelling of "Beijing") change its name to "Beijing" (the pinyin spelling of "Beijing," which has now become the international spelling).

I always answer this question mechanically: Beijing is Beijing, It never changed it’s name, It’s just that the spelling style now uses China’s Hanyu pinyin. But there was one time when a French person who studied Chinese asked me: Why isn’t "China" called by its pinyin name "Zhongguo" in foreign countries? I was speechless for a moment. Yes, "Zhongguo" is called "China" in English, in French its called "Chine" (pronounced like "Zhe yin ne"), in Arabic "middle" [the first character of "Zhong.guo"] is "si yin," in Thai it is "jin," but its not called "Zhongguo" or "Zhonghua" [another word referring to China]. But don’t be anxious, after Taiwan returns to the motherland, the unified country might be called Zhongguo.

9. What’s the thing you’re most surprised about?

Going to a Western country, once I introduce myself to my classmates or colleagues, the question friends or teachers mot like to ask is: "When you arrived in our country, what was the thing that surprised you the most or the thing you found strangest?" If we want the question answered sincerely, my answer would be: My idea of what this place would be like is almost exactly the same as it is. Put simply, Chinese people today, through newspaper, TV, movies, internet, and other media, can see and understand a lot about the West’s government, culture, and lifestyle. Except for language and a few things we’re unaccustomed to, there really isn’t much culture shock. A lot of foreigners aren’t intrigued by this answer. According to their understanding of China, they think you are from the backcountry of "Yellow Earth" or "Raise the Red Lantern" [Chinese films depicting traditional countryside feudal Chinese society]. To arrive in this debauched and developed world, we must feel dizzy, feel a lot of feelings!

10. How do you use chopsticks to eat soup?

A lot of foreigners work hard to learn how to use chopsticks, and when they go to a Chinese restaurant, they decline to use a knife and fork, saying it doesn’t have the same Chinese taste if they don’t eat with chopsticks. But there’s one thing that foreigners are confused with from start to finish. That is, how do you use chopsticks to eat soup? I have heard some foreigners try to be smart and say there must be some kind of chopstick straws that you can use normally to eat food but then put in your soup to drink it. I have told them, Chinese people put their chopsticks down and use a spoon to eat soup, or they hold the bowl up and drink from it. Foreigners hear this, and it’s almost like they don’t believe it: Is it really that simple?

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47 Comments | Leave a comment | Comment feed

  1. ab says:

    If you want to get technical, Beijing (北京) was called Beiping (北平) from about 1928 until 1949.

    • Ian MacFarlane says:

      Beijing was called Peiping from 1928 through about 1980 only by the Nationalist Party and in the areas it controlled. The people who lived in Beijing still called it Beijing during that time. It was listed as “Peiping” in America because we were aligned with Taiwan or the Guomintang through the mid 1970s. We didn’t adopt Pinyin until we opened diplomatic relations with China (PRC).

      • pm2.5 says:

        It’s true there were no Nationalists in Beijing from 1928 to 1949…We are at war with Oceania. We have always been at war with Oceania.

  2. Aliquid Novi says:

    actually, peking comes from “pak-ging”, the cantonese pronunciation of “north capital”. the southern LANGUAGES (not dialects) were very much more widespread throughout the world than mandarin until only about two decades ago. hence, the world learned about beijing from southerners and hongkongers. some time after mao (who didn’t speak mandarin), the international spelling changed.

    don’t hold your breath over reunification with taiwan.

    • j says:

      Thank You!

    • j says:

      I’m actually kind of surprised at the ignorance of the chinese writer for a few of the responses.

    • adil rakindo says:

      i’ll gladly “hold my breath” for Taiwan’s eventual return to Mainland China. it doesn’t require much for such an eventuality to happen. for the only obstacle preventing it happening is the us military superiority. barring some global cataclysm, the us won’t be able to hold on to that superiority forever. the global “proppers” of usa – (1)the brains of practically all the scientists and intellectuals the world over who hitherto end up working directly or indirectly for the usa, and (2)the capital of all savers of the world via the us-controlled international banking system – will not continue to prop up the us to the exclusion of other countries. it’s becoming clearer as time goes by, particularly now that china is offering an alternative destination for the global community of scientists and intellectuals an alternative place to further their careers and likewise with international capitalists having China to invest instead of pouring all their money into the us as hitherto. inexorably the usa will no longer be able to send its armada to the pacific …

      • John says:

        There used to be another “alternative” to western dominance and American hegemony. They were called the “Soviet Union,” and things didn’t work out so well for them when they tried to compete with us.

        Can’t we just be friends? Trade partners? National competition is so wasteful.

        • adil rakindo says:

          the USSR was never an “alternative” to the USA. the USSR was an attempt to create a Communist alternative that failed throughout its existence even just to make its “alternative” economy get off the ground. The US dollar reigned supreme in the international market and only those currencies which were affiliated if not subservient to the dollar was allowed to pretend to have a solvent economy and hence its currency was “acceptable”. There was hence little trouble to exchange currency of even weak economy as e.g. the Italian Lira. But the Soviet Rubble? It was practically impossible to exchange the Soviet currency anywhere outside the unworkable Comecon market, because this “market” was totally marginalised by international capital outside what was acceptable. The 2nd cardinal mistake was that the USSR tried to compete with the US-led capitalism on capitalist terms(!). China did not make the same mistake. And this is why the capitalist West, esp the US, is scared stiff … (and hence fighting back with dirty machinations all over the world: smearing China with black propaganda nonstop including, e.g., belittling any achievement that by other countries would have been lauded with credits while, at the same time, highlighting and magnifying errors and failures and, at the same time, muddying waters in the pacific by, e.g., egging on the Philippines to “stand up” to China’s “bullying” … this is the time for those who hates China to have a good time because for the next half century China-bashing is the order of the era.

  3. voiceofhomer says:

    #11.>Does your Chinese women love ugly whitey Amerikans as much as whitey Amerikan women loves blackmen?

    #12.>How many kids do you have?

    #13.>Are the Chinese women in China as great as the Chinese women in Amerika?

    #14.>You have a car?

    #15.>You want to come to Amerika with me?

  4. LaTravella says:

    #8 I always use Pekin outside China, but inside – Beijing. In most languages capital of China will be called Pekin – German, Russian, Japanese, Spanish etc.

  5. Ed says:

    “But don’t be anxious, after Taiwan returns to the motherland, the unified country might be called Zhongguo.”

    That’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard in a while.

  6. Me says:

    By saying “10 questions foreigners like to ask Chinese people” what the author of the Chinese news site article meant was “A few questions that were each asked of me once by the small handful of foreign people I chatted with, in addition to a few bullshit questions I made up myself.”

    The most ridiculous thing is I am not even Chinese and I seem to know more about his nation’ history and culture than he does. His explanations for everything are just as made up as his questions. Why has this article been translated and reproduced. What a waste of time.

    No one is asking Chinese people for oil. If for some reason there was someone interested enough in Chinese culture to want to buy it they could just go to China town and get it. Its like this idiot thinks there are no Chinese people outside of China.

    Chopstick straws????!!!! WTF No one has ever thought this. He did not have this conversation with anyone.

    Yeah we are all really afraid of Chinese people because they know Kung Fu. If this story is true (which it isn’t) about the security guard, then this guy is too stupid to realize the man would have been just poking fun at him.

    • Bada says:

      Well about the Kung fu thing, I have to admit that I was thinking this when a was a kid in the 80′s. No adult would believe this though.

  7. Nirvana says:

    nobody asked me all those questions…though everyone tends to think I’m super hard working and good at math haha, which I totally am not…

  8. what a joke says:

    what a joke! hahaga

  9. voiceofhomer says:

    Are the foreigners still asking you in China about the 1989 Tiananmen killings?

    The westerners here ask me all the time, like I was from China or something.

    Morons are free here and they can do everything but talk smart, that’s why they love Obama talking BS.

    And a college edjumation means nothing here, they are still morons.

    • John says:

      There should be a law in the United States that whenever a president’s name is brought up for no reason, the offender has to be smashed in the face with a pie.

      I would vote to amend the constitution for such a law.

  10. Michael says:

    Yes, like somewhat already posted on the website, “Peking” was actually Cantonese for Beijing. You’ll find many Cantonese spellings for many older English maps of China and even names, such as Chiang Kai-shek (Cantonese spelling for “Jiang Jie-shi”). Furthermore, Wade Giles was the commonly used romanization form of Chinese prior to Hanyu Pinyin which is used in Mainland China today. For example, the city “Gaoxiong” in Taiwan is written as “Kaohsiung”.

    As to why “Zhongguo” is called China in English is not because of its chinaware but is named after the first emperor of China, Qin or “Chin” in Wade Giles. And if you’re with someone who knows Chinese, you joke and say that China is for 拆哪儿 because you’ll see the word 拆 (to break down, demolish) virtually almost everywhere in the cities.

    Michael

  11. voiceofhomer says:

    The Brits called it Peking back in the opium days.

    Nothing to do with old Chinese words.

    The Brits change the names of many the Asian countries and Asian names, just look at what they did in Burma, Cathay, India, Tibet, Taiwan and Australia.

  12. Momat94 says:

    This is a really badly done. Foreigners are not that stupid. This could be an article in the English version of the people’s daily

    • jas says:

      You find some foreigners not that stupid, but that doesn’t mean foreigners aren’t. Nobody ever went broke underestimating the minds of the foreign public.

      • John says:

        But if stupidity is expected, universal, and unavoidable, why waste time and effort pointing it out?

  13. China Dude says:

    “This could be an article in the English version of the people’s daily.”

    I completely agree with this. This blog sounds like it was written by some weirdo who is about 55 years old and has never left their “hometown” before.

    #7 is just f’n bizarre! “Do you have qing liang cooling oil?!?!” WTF?!?!

    “How do you use chopsticks to eat soup?” -That is straight-up People’s Daily BS.

  14. voiceofhomer says:

    In China the westerners always want to know about China’s evil govt and they want to know about China’s slow and old internet system.

    Here look at this and enlighten.
    ————————————————————————————————————————-

    Mr Snowden now says the US was hacking hundreds of targets in Hong Kong and China, including private individuals, academics and students too.

    China has long said it is a victim of hacking. Here was a contractor for American intelligence who had fled to Hong Kong saying he wanted to expose US “hypocrisy”; China’s claims, he said, were true.

  15. voiceofhomer says:

    Bloggers in China have reacted with outrage to news of an assault on six Chinese students in France’s wine-producing Bordeaux region.

    French Interior Minister Manuel Valls condemned the “xenophobic” attack.

    One blogger said France’s reputation was “damaged” while another said Chinese people should avoid visiting the country.

    ——————————————————————————————————

    French scums are always like this, they take your money and treat you like shit at the same time.

    They like to do it to the Chinese the most then to the Vietnamese, but they love the blacks and Indians and the muslims and the Tibetans.

    What’s with that French fry?

  16. jbelkin says:

    It should also be noted that the official English name for China is The People’s Republic of China so the govt has no issue with the word China in English.

  17. voiceofhomer says:

    “A Boeing 787 Dreamliner operated by Ethiopian Airlines caught fire at Britain’s Heathrow airport on Friday, forcing the closure of both runways”

    Why are China’s airports so slow?

  18. That’s funny, as a Chinese actually three of those questions I got asked as well.

  19. voiceofhomer says:

    “I came to believe that the Chinese… believed that somewhere in Washington there is a master plan about what we intend to do to try to control their rise.”

  20. Humans life , living way, culture is diffrent but we should learn good.but now these days human life in danger.cause virus .over childs in the family,population growth.so try to aware all whole word people.decrease it. ’1child enough to each couple’ spread it .

  21. Anne says:

    Um, I’m in Toronto, Canada, and Chinese people (or people that look Chinese), are at a greater risk for robbery due to the Chinese reputation for carrying cash and expensive electronics.

    • Guilherme says:

      Interesting, Im from Sao Paulo, Brazil, and here there are some gangs that are specialized on robbering chinese, because many of them are living here for many years, but know nothing about the country, so they don´t have a bank account, and keep their money all at home.

  22. casio 電卓 says:

    デジタルカメラ

  23. mobwayne99 says:

    i like china & one day i want com overhere so i needs support.

  24. mobwayne99 says:

    oooh am forget to introduce my self.

    My name iz Mubaracca Mohamed am Tanzanian

  25. CRCCAsia says:

    This design is wicked! You most certainly know how to keep a reader amused.
    Between your wit and your videos, I was almost
    moved to start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Wonderful job.
    I really loved what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it.
    Too cool!

  26. John says:

    The “oil” referred to in #7 looks like the Chinese version of Bag Balm, which I’m sure predates American Bag Balm. Basically, it was made for sores on cow udders, but people noticed the local dairy workers’ hands were smoother than their wives’.

    Either way, at least in the case of the US, we don’t need your shitty skin oil. We have our own lanolin and petroleum based compounds, thank you. They work fine.

  27. Daphne says:

    淮陹虿米羔助理 please translate this to English,,I downloaded a Chinese game,it was all Chinese character an some of the goal I cannot achieve coz I don’t understand it’s character,plzz help…

  28. Me and me says:

    I can tell you about something as equally frustrating..
    The ignorant of most of chinese people about the West.
    They really think that every non asian looking person is a native english speaker.. For example, Im white, my mother language is not english, Im not even from a “developed”country (Brazil), and I speak passable chinese, I love to speak and pratice it, however I see how many chinese really seem to insist on using english every time they see a western face! Thats really frustrating from a language learner!
    I try to explain to them if they were in my country and I speak to them in Japanese because they look asian, how would they feel ??
    The chinese really have to be taught that not all foreigners are the same, like they think, I lost the count how many times I heard the sentence: “你们外国人。。。。”
    PS: Sometimes I use chinese here, but ONLY when I hear them speaking mandarin! I won’t approach an asian looking person in my country in mandarin, theres a high chance that they were born here, or might be from Korea or Japan.. for what I see in China they would harly ever think that the person might have been born in China, or might speak fluent mandarin and not so good english, or loves China and so wants to speak chinese.

  29. friendofchina says:

    As a Londoner with oriental looks, I find that most Chinese people in particular as well as many other Sinaean Asians generally pretty arrogant towards people with Oriental looks they meet in many European cities such as London. As soon as their eyes see us being “non-native”s and/or non- Whites, they make sure to show their profound disappointment followed by snooty look of disrespect. And if we happen to cross gaze while they were in the middle of smiling, they immediately stop smiling and change their look into palpable disgust. if looks can say anything it would be saying: “you?!?! I don’t want you to be here!”
    Not unrelatedly, these Oriental newcomers virtually without exception assume that only white people, particularly white “English” persons, know and speak English “properly”. The fact that many of us have university degrees in the English language and literature, and some of us are even published regularly in English, are not enough to make them realise that just because you’re born and bred in England does not make your English “perfect” and that therefore you’re qualified to teach English and charge you a lot of money, while others who are properly qualified are suspect simply because they don’t look English … A reflection of how wanting the education system in China today?

  30. Nice post. I learn something totally new and challenging on sites I stumbleupon on a
    daily basis. It’s always exciting to read articles from other
    authors and use a little something from their web sites.

  31. friendofchina says:

    Further to my contribution, I’d like to add something to the constant banter – not without hints of the underlying racist prejudices – about dog meat eating which was purportedly the specialty of Chinese people. I just read a brief the paper entitled “The Question of Dog Meat” in a journal called Petits Propos Cullinaires 91, October 2010: pp.61-69. I suggest to those of us who are interested in this issue to read it. One might not agree with what’s being said but one might just learn something from it.

  32. Gary Rice says:

    I like those questions. When ever I am in a foreign country the first thing I ask is are there any snakes or poisones spiders. I have spent to much time in the Jungle,

  33. Mike says:

    Why are you staring?

    Seriously. Can’t believe you skipped this one. I ask my Chinese friends, and they just deny that this happens….

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