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6 Strange Compliments You Get in China (and How to Handle Them)

Apr 04, 2016 By Elaine Pang , eChinacities.com Comments (28)     Add your comment Newsletter

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Just as compliments on your big toe are a sign that someone has the hots for you, dubious-sounding praises from Chinese should be interpreted as a sign of endearment. More often than not, compliments in China come across more as highly personal statements, ranging from the plain statement of fact, to the bewildering, to the downright offensive. Strict upbringing in traditional families ensure that most Chinese almost never receive compliments growing up, so they may be simply lacking in practice dishing out praises. Got a compliment that was not-so-complimentary? Take it in your stride inwardly and outwardly deny it vehemently, as the Chinese would do. Here are six strange, but common enough, compliments that one may encounter in China together with tips on how best to brush them off.

 Compliments in China
Photo: crimsong19

1) “Your Chinese is soooo good! / You can use chopsticks!!” (And other compliments related to Chinese culture)
Flattered as you may be, always take such compliments with a grain of salt (or MSG, for that matter). Unless of course you happen to speak Mandarin like Da Shan; that is, more impeccably than a lot of locals. It may be tempting to think that you have a flair for a language as difficult to commit to memory as Egyptian hieroglyphics but in all honesty, a simple Ni Hao is enough to earn lavish praise from most people. When your Chinese-speaking ability gets strangely ignored, you can then be sure it is good enough to be taken as a given. Beware of similar praises extolling your chopstick skills or Chinese culinary prowess.

The brush-off: An outright thanks is neither culturally appropriate nor necessary, given the embedded white lie within this compliment. Rather, some self-deprecatory noise is called for, like “nali, nali”(哪里,哪里). Or, to match the compliment, try something showy, like “Ban men nong fu”(班门弄斧), an idiom about someone showing off his axe-wielding skills in front of Ban men, an expert in this field).

2) “You have straight legs”
This one is not as common as the others but is completely bizarre. At some point at Chinese person may come up to you and say, admiringly, “Your legs are so straight! Foreign girls have such straight legs!”-after a period of scrutinizing Chinese people’s walks to see if they are bandy-legged, you will realize that they were actually complimenting you on your good posture. Go figure.

The brush-off: Act pleased and mutter something vague about having attended finishing school.

3) “You come from a country with such high morals!” (And other country-of-origin compliments)
You couldn’t choose your country of birth any more than you could choose your biological parents. Yet the Chinese around you are impressed you come from a country full of polite people who don’t smoke in enclosed spaces or spit on the ground. Other factors that might impress are hygiene standards, economy, air quality, welfare programs and the country’s history.

The brush-off: The polite response would be to invite them over for a visit. Or, endeavour to explain why your hometown is no utopia. Just don’t expect to change mindsets in one session.

4) “Your face is soooooo small!”
Possibly the most confusing of comments, your original reaction to this might be a defensive: ‘YOUR face is small!!!!’, before realizing that it’s actually a compliment- albeit an unusual one. What Chinese people really mean when they say this is: ‘your face isn’t big and round’. The bane of many a Chinese girl’s life is a lack of a guazi lian- a face in the shape of an upside down sunflower seed with a pointy chin like Zhou Xun, or a Manga cartoon. This is the reason behind the majority of weird Chinese posing in photographs- most of these poses are designed to make your face look less round.

The brush-off: None, just bask in the awesomeness of your tiny face and maybe try to make your face look bigger when taking photos with Chinese girls, by puffing out your cheeks.

5) “You’re so cute!”
It is common knowledge that Asians find deep double eyelids, chiseled bone structures and any eye or hair colour other than black attractive. Yet this one never fails to amuse or bewilder (depending on the level of attractiveness of the object of the compliment) whenever it is directed at guys who would never raise a second look back home. You may be too skinny (or fat) or short (or tall) or just plain ugly in your home country, but here, you’re suddenly Brad Pitt, or something. Well, just don’t let it go into your head (unless you really do look like Brad Pitt).

The brush-off:More self-deprecatory noises of “nali, nali” (哪里,哪里).

6) “You’re so white!”
This one only happens to Caucasian foreigners, mainly pasty Europeans and Americans of Irish complexions who have been spending most of their lives desperately basting their glaringly white legs in tanning oil in an attempt at cooking themselves into bronzed perfection. Pale skin is considered desirable here as it separates you from the farming classes, and is the reason you’ve been seeing middle aged women zooming around on e-bikes with Darth Vader style visors on.

The brush-off: Tell them about your sad failed tanning attempts and appreciate the fact that everyone wants what they can’t have.

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28 Comments ( Add your comment )

1
comment|47767|269659
Laowei

In Shenyang a gf's son once remarked to me "You have hair like old woman." The brush-off: tell the kid "Ni sha bi" and never go back to Shenyang to see his mother.

Jun 23, 2014 04:07
2
comment|47770|246226
sorrel

it could also be that they don't know what else to say and feel they have to speak.

Jun 23, 2014 07:53
3
comment|47776|103576
Nessquick

Yep, I lost it once to one ex-coworker girl, who pointed out to me several times. she does not know what to talk, so just simply said " ni pan le" at maybe 4th or 5th time. I lost it badly to her. :-) But I never told her about her t-shirts she wears for 1 week straight, trousers about 3 weeks,

Jun 23, 2014 11:37
4
comment|47783|97562
Nixan

I have heard that in past times (before reforms, 1978) if a man wants to express his sex-simpathy and love to a woman, he couldnt say: "I like/love you", he was allowed just to say her: "You serve to chairman Mao very well!" . (meaning was the same). :-))) Can anybody confirm it is true?

Jun 23, 2014 15:08
5
comment|47788|253070
mirka

yeah , Chinese logic is hard to understand. I was startled when in a cafe Chinese waitress came over to me and said "You are so sexy" and ran away ahahah.

Jun 23, 2014 21:02
6
comment|47829|230323
taroko22

The best compliment I've got was: "Wow! You have really good genes!"

Jun 24, 2014 23:27
7
comment|47835|107102
cncowart1

I have been told by 2 women here already that I have a beautiful face, and that if I was a woman, I'd be a "really beautiful one" (I am a guy in his late 20's with a really young-looking boyish appearance)... I at first took it as an insult to my masculinity (haha), but when I questioned the 2nd woman to tell me that, she said it is actually good thing (?)

Jun 25, 2014 10:17
8
comment|47839|292452
serena-gl

I got told in a drugstore that my eyes look old, and my hair looks dry.... and that is of course by trying to sell you something. My tailor also laughed at my being "fat" and thought she would score. Actually it is really funny when you look at it. In American culture, everyone tries to tell you that you look beautiful and they try to tell you something. Here in China, they try it the other way around, posing a problem and offering the solution. :-) Serena from YCC Yudefang Mandarin School

Jun 25, 2014 12:15
9
comment|47864|294145
RandallFlagg

A few Chinese have commented that my mother "must be beautiful" (they've never met or seen her, just me). I'm a 28 year old male, so where does that come from?!

Jun 26, 2014 00:31
10
comment|47910|88258
fueramanta

1) “Your Chinese is soooo good! / You can use chopsticks!!” (And other compliments related to Chinese culture) Not only Chinese, everyone that likes someone for one reason or another do this. That Chinese tell you these things cos the only fact that your are a foreigner , they enjoy your foreigner company, and they don't know much English is the real point. When I can't communicate with Chinese (that i like) cos our language barrier, I just say something basic and friendly in Chinese like : 中国很好,even if is bullshit (that it is), just cos i want to be friendly to him\her. 2) “You have straight legs” WTF , i'm sorry, i haven't met Chinese aliens yet. 3) “You come from a country with such high morals!” (And other country-of-origin compliments) This often comes from the typical Chinese that loves English and Western so much that they can even speak a pretty good understandable English. Only a few Chinese will tell you this, just cos they are crazily in need of foreign friends, and their dream is to get out of this country. Most Chinese are proud of their country, specially old, middle-age and rich people. 4) “Your face is soooooo small!” Well, maybe your face is so small. Foreigners are popular in China for having long faces...

Jun 26, 2014 20:44
11
comment|47956|78817
lesha87

Loving the humility here! I milk the compliments and reply with, 'Yes, I know I am beautiful. And yes, I do have a small nose with a bridge.' I mean I didn't tell you to compliment me! Lol.

Jun 28, 2014 16:46
12
comment|47960|293731
Guest2643582

Umro sam od smeha.

Jun 29, 2014 03:45
13
comment|51453|81937
bill8899

Everyone likes compliments.

Oct 06, 2014 07:20
14
comment|65852|43131
Guest388182

Wow, you can drink a lot! Reply: I'm trying to escape the reality of being in China

Oct 27, 2015 05:26
15
comment|65853|43131
Guest388182

wow, you have three legs! Reply: I work near a chemical plant and live by a psychedelic metallic river in (fill in name of city)

Oct 27, 2015 05:28
16
comment|70122|1620648
Guest14585832

"That was better than my husband." Hear that one a lot.

Apr 04, 2016 05:03
17
comment|70123|43131
Guest388182

have heard only one Chinese returned from the west compliment it; the rest hated the food ("only hamburger"), were bored to death ("no festivals"), had stayed in their apartments shared with other Chinese ("outside too dangerous"), and had worsened English("no one to talk to"). The indoctrination works so well...

Apr 04, 2016 06:02
18
comment|70124|5289
carlstar

ALSO boring because some places don't have Sunday shopping. Restaurants are quiet and no locals talk to them. That is as you said, they are locked away in their Chinese only world and when someone does, they take offence at everything.

Apr 04, 2016 12:01
19
comment|70125|5289
carlstar

Compliments in China are traps of some sort. I personally just ended it when it happened. Nothing good comes of it. Who cares if you offend someone also. There are another billion there to talk to if you want. Also if they come back for more, you are now in charge. China!

Apr 04, 2016 12:05
20
comment|70126|307009
kuntmans

For all the compliments and attention they receive some laowai's still never stop with their incessant moaning about everything.

Apr 04, 2016 16:46
21
comment|70152|1596404
Rita88

all the shity compliments and "monkey" attention you mean?

Apr 06, 2016 14:52
22
comment|70180|273557
Chhris

If you play your game right that monkey attention can easily be turned into something more... :P Oh, never mind, you are a girl.

Apr 07, 2016 13:54
23
comment|70128|1574159
Jack_lerkio

You're so handsome you have a big nose... Wait what?

Apr 04, 2016 17:46
24
comment|70243|305724
SenseiSteve

"Your hair is so shiny." Occupational hazard of being a red head, you look like a walking traffic cone. Although to be honest, it's nice being complimented for being a red head rather then insulted like back in the native country. Furthermore, it's also quite interesting to see a Chinese girl try to work out how someone can be born with a hair colour other then black.

Apr 09, 2016 22:14
25
comment|70245|298985
NanNingJay

the author writes something in pinyin then 'helpfully' translates it into chinese characters. The author is writing to (presumably) people newer to China. Yet assumes they not only know Pinyin but actually if they dont its because they only know the characters wtf? Broadly speaking, what's so wrong or foolish about compliments? If you have straight legs (yes, Chinese value this, how straight your legs stand) then why not say thank you? If someone does compliment the morals of your society, you really don't need to 'brush it off' and its not because you 'just happen to be born there' either. Recently I was told Canada must have good social morals for they have a healthcare system. (though its definitely not free!) and yes this is because my grandparents along with a union of Christian ministers, with a certain biblical morality, got together and developed a system with a Pastor who was elected by the people to office etc and so on. So this isn't some accident of birth. Its not like the actual soil of Canada just had this by happenstance but because of what people do, what morals they hold, how they continue valuing such things, electing such things and for that matter not abusing those things. I recently had a Chinese telling other Chinese how in Canada he was amazed to see someone put a 'Dont Walk on Grass' sign and even with no authorities looking, to his amazement, even young people in a hurry would stop and walk a very long way around, careful to obey the rule! Nobody even spit phlegm onto the grass while walking along it!!! This is, in part, because my culture (me, my family, my friends) deliberately inherited his morality, we chose to keep it, we even work and practice it as much or more in our lives. So no, don't 'brush it off' like its a joke and has no meaning or value since 'you didn't choose where you were born'. You do choose to keep, grow, preserve those moral values so be proud of it. (or be ashamed of bad ones because those too are your problem that your countrymen and you are responsible for, make, promote, continue). But in some of these compliments I have to say I am not so privileged, so elite, so proud, so self-aware of my beauty that I not only love getting compliments on my beauty but take it further by having the luxury of refuting them and brushing them off. A woman being whistled at walking past workman is thrilled. A woman who can then act offended is truly the highest on the superficial and social ladders. How nice it must be. The internet kids tell me its something related to a word 'humble-brag' but the point remains the same.

Apr 10, 2016 00:51
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