Chinese people love small talk. Often, instead of saying hello, they greet you by asking : “Have you just come home? You’ve been shopping? Nice hat” and so on, with the ubiquitous “aaa” or “laaa” or “le” sounds at the end of almost each sentence, supposedly meant to soften the speech but to foreigners, well, feels like being yelled at sometimes. Although, the ayi in my apartment complex talks like this and I love it. Me and my strange likes…eh?
Being modest and bashful is one big rule here and sooner or later all big-nose expats ought to learn to say “na li, na li” (where, where) as the swift default reply after each compliment paid by locals. Of course they mean your spoken Chinese is great and of course they mean you look beautiful and all, but even if you agree (why not), just go with it and shoot the na li na li quickly.
One of my closest friends here (haha, not funny, I’d reveal the name but she’d sure kill me for it), so, now, seriously, there’s this friend who goes for a bikini wax the other day and upon undressing, the petite beautician cries: Oh! Hen piaoliang! (Oh, very pretty!). Blushing blushing, still she remembered the magic word so face is saved (the other uberimportant rule here).
If a Chinese friend wants to show you some affection, particularly of course the young, well, they, jokingly, just hit you with their shoulder bag “Oh, shut up” or “You stupid” – kind of like we did in fifth-grade when we happened to be infatuated with the then Justin Bieberito of the year at the school canteen. Still, so pure, you know.
On the one hand. On the other, it’s some rather different mechanism. Many people I’ve come across here (my two bosses/workmates at the school, my Spoken Chinese teacher at the college who’s become my friend and mentor and loads of others who I met through friends), remind me of my Japanese friends, being subtle and gentle that I’ve got to focus and behave so that I don’t break any social conduct. How to pour the tea and who serves it to whom first, that we don’t shut anybody out of a conversation, we never interrupt (having grown up in Hungary, plus after 4 years in Spain, bueno, it’s a challenge, is it not), never look at and into somebody’s eyes for longer than ten seconds, not to burst out laughing loudly, especially not by showing our teeth. And generally, we never brag nor show off with anything and…wait for it…yes yes, the good old na li, na li!