Even after you speak Chinese, you may encounter an uncomfortable phenomenon: Chinese people seem to like to state the obvious.
For example, In my very first months in China, when I was jogging around my campus I ran past two strangers and I nodded and smiled to them as I passed. Their response was not a smile nor nod back nor even a “ni hao.” Rather one of them said with a straight face:
- pǎobù a! 跑步啊 = You’re jogging, huh
And another simple said,
- lǎowài 老外 = foreigner
This was a little bit uncomfortable for me because a) I know I’m jogging, b) I know I’m a foreigner, c) I didn’t know what in the world could be gained from either parties stating these obvious facts.
However, now that I’ve been in China longer, I realize the Chinese like to state the obvious and label things.
For example, after I tell a funny story, my Chinese friends will often say to me (in English or Chinese):
I thought their exuberant laughter would have been a clue enough that they thought that way, but no. After the laughter died down, they also felt it necessary to tell me. Admittedly we might do that in English sometimes, but it seems like the Chinese people like to do it more.
I don’t know why. Perhaps Chinese people feel stating the obvious is good because:
- It’s better than saying nothing
- It’s a friendly was of starting a conversation (like talking about the weather or something)
- It deflects attention away from the speaker
The most uncomfortable situation for me was when I was playing tennis a few days ago. I have to pay to use the university tennis courts, but the P.E. teachers don’t because it’s obviously part of their facilities.
The other day, one P.E. teacher was sitting with the money lady when I came up to pay for the court time. As I handed over the money, the P.E. teacher said:
- jiāoqián a! 交钱啊 = So, payin’ money.
It was hard to hear it as anything but gloating, “Haha! You have to pay money and I don’t.” But from what I know about the teacher, that’s a little bit out of character for her. So…my theory is that she was just in “state the obvious” mode, and didn’t think about the specifics of what she was saying.
I would LOVE to hear any of your thoughts on this phenomenon. Has anyone else noticed this?