Don't ask if I'm good, and it's none of your business

Updated: 2012-12-18 11:34

By Lisa Carducci (China Daily)

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Why, then, should the Chinese language imitate English? Are all foreigners Americans? Do the Chinese think foreigners will understand better?

Then, why not to use the French formula with the French and match that of every other nationality?

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It's certainly not by ignorance of their own language that Chinese teach the "ni hao ma" greeting to non-Chinese. They want to adapt to their counterpart's culture to facilitate learning.

But the result is not always desirable. When a Chinese inverts his surname and name, and the Western counterpart knows that things usually go the other way in China, the situation degenerates into perfect confusion.

If you speak French and come from Canada where the ground floor is - as in China - the first floor, and a Chinese tells you he lives on the fourth floor, you'll never find his house.

When a pinyin (romanized Chinese) inscription is abbreviated as "BJQJDKYD", you'll spend a long time looking for Beijing Quanjude Kao Ya Dian (a famous Peking duck restaurant branch).

One colleague asked me whether I'd visited the church near our office. I was surprised I'd never noticed that church and asked her to show me.

Once there, I realized it was a Buddhist temple I knew very well. My colleague had assumed "we" were all Christians.

Now, Chinese have started touring Europe - mostly in guided groups.

But these 12-day tours of seven countries offer just enough time to snap pictures to show others back home - not to observe, enjoy and absorb the multiple cultures that shape the mosaic of the outside world.

They generally assign the bits and pieces they see to all non-Chinese and say: "You foreigners say, do, eat, think this or that." Because their German host goes to bed at 9 pm, they assume, "foreigners go to bed early".

I'll never get used to that kind of generalization.

The author is a Canadian scholar based in Beijing. Contact her at

China Daily

Don't ask if I'm good, and it's none of your business

Don't ask if I'm good, and it's none of your business

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