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5 things never to ask or tell foreigners


By Valeriya Nikulina from Russia

These are simple cultural differences which, while no harm is meant, can be the differences between meeting a friend or having someone shrug you off. Therefore, here is my list of important points that Chinese people should not do if they want to make friends with random foreigners:

1. 我们可以做朋友吗?(Wǒmen kěyǐ zuò péngyǒu ma?) 

Do not ask if you can be friends. This kind of directness when applied to friendship with the foreigners seems too much of an initial commitment and that kind of candour can scare the foreigners away. Friendship to us is not something that you vocally agree on, but rather something that is earned. 

2. 我可以跟你学习英语吗?(Wǒ kěyǐ gēn nǐ xuéxí yīngyǔ ma?) 

Do not ask if you can practice your English. For those foreigners that have been in China for a long time, this can simply make he or she feel used and they will simply say “No”. Remember, that foreigners can make good money giving simple conversation classes where they do just that, so some will simply refuse to chat with you for free as odd as this sounds.

3. 你一个月的工资多少?(Nǐ yígè yuè de gōngzī duōshǎo?)

Do not ask about money. This is a big cultural no-no. In Western cultures, people feel quite uncomfortable when asked how much their salary is or how much they paid for something, unless they got it at a great price. Most Westerners believe a discrepancy in salary will hurt their friendships so they will refuse to answer this question. Asking will make him or her feel cornered.

4. 你很漂亮!(Nǐ hěn piàoliang!)

Do not tell girls that they are beautiful when you first meet them. While this is truly flattering as a comment, it is considered a bit odd to most foreign girls who will get embarrassed and not know what to say. They can either say "Thank you", which makes them feel silly, or argue with you, which is also uncomfortable.

5. 哈喽,你在干嘛?(Hālóu, nǐ zài gànmá?)

 Do not call or text too much. This is not a question but important nonetheless. Send a text only when you have something to say. Texting 20 times a day just to say Hi can seem invasive for many Westerners. Usually, we text only to make plans or if we are sharing a story or news of the day. Once at my first year in China I’ve met a Chinese girl, who seemed very nice to me. However, my opinion about her changed after she called me every 15 minutes to ask some simple questions or just have a chat in English. 

Texts like "What's up?" are used to see if the person is available to hang out usually. If the foreigner replies, "not much, you?" do not reply, "nothing." The foreigner will become confused and have nothing to text back. If you follow up by texting the exact same thing an hour later they could even get annoyed.

Also, texts like "I see," are conversation killers; there is no way to respond.

In addition, most people don’t feel comfortable with texts from people they don't know that say, "I miss you." "I miss you" is something that sometimes foreigners don't even say to their friends at times, so it’s reserved for close friends and relatives. Saying it to someone we met once in a coffee shop is not commonplace.

These simple tips will help clear up some cultural and language barriers between foreigners and Chinese people and help them make friends!


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