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most embarrassing moment while learning Chinese


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It was Spring Festival, my second one in China, but my first one knowing how to greet people for the holiday in Chinese. Also my first one with my then-boyfriend, soon-to-be-fiance, and now husband. I was trying very hard to talk to his friends with my limited Chinese, and we had spent the day with his best friend and friend's wife. As they got ready to leave, I said very enthusiastically and genially, "xin nian hao!" Then-BF's friend sort of awkwardly nodded his head and replied "xin nian hao." As they walked out a few minutes later, I once more called out "xin nian hao!", getting a similarly lukewarm reception. I felt something a bit awkward happening, but was not sure what, and forgot about. Later (hours later), then-BF says to me, "Oh, by the way, you are only supposed to say "xin nian hao" when you say hello to someone. If you want to give them a New Year's greeting as you say good-bye, you should say something like "xin nian kuai le."

I was mortified, not to mention extremely ticked off at then-BF for not correcting me the first time! Perhaps not the most embarrassing story, but it was traumatic for me at the time :)

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  • 1 month later...

I was teaching in Taiwan at the College of Chinese Culture. It was either a midterm or a final exam and I was walking around the room as the students worked on their exams. One of the young ladies got my attention and told me her pen had run out of ink. Very confident in my Chinese I asked the class in Chinese if anyone could lend her a pen as her pen had run out of ink. There were a lot of stifled guffaws and I wondered what I had said. It turned out that the way I said it it sounded like her nose had run out of water....

I'm still just as confident and still make some very humorous mistakes that entertain my family greatly. Once I was in church and they were singing the hymn holy holy holy but I was accused of singing leftovers, leftovers, leftovers.

My friend when I was in Taiwan once went into a restaurant and ordered "pieces of chicken" noodles but it came out chicken shit noodles which was a great laugh for his Chinese friends who were with him.


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i came home this summer to relax and rest a bit. my mom and i were going to start speaking in chinese so i wouldn't forget too much. she asked me a question and i said sui2 bian4 (doesn't matter) 隨便 .

she started laughing... apparently my tone wasn't quite right (she heard sui3) and i had said something like "poop pieces"

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I really messed up one afternoon not long after I'd arrived in Bei Jing. I was walking in Beihai park one afternoon with relatives of a Chinese lady I knew back in the UK. They didn't speak English and my Chinese was rudimentary to say the least so our conversation was a bit stilted. In one last attempt, my friend's brother asked me ' zai zhongguo ni you nan peng you ma ?'

I was very happy as I thought that I had understood their question (for the first time that afternoon). Unfortunately I had understood ' ni you peng you' instead of 'ni you nan peng you', and launched into a long tirade to prove how great my Chinese was - approximately along the following lines :

" you, kending you hen duo, you yingguo de, zhongguo de, ye you meiguo he riben de (etc.)"

there was no reaction, so I carried on:

" you nu de, ye you nan de"

by this time I realised something was amiss judging by the exxpression on their faces. It was embarassing for me but at least it broke the ice.

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I went to a dumpling party that was being held by the Chinese English Language table at the University of Illinois and afterward I got a call from a Chinese friend of mine.

She asked about my day and I told her "I just got back from a biao3zi party".

She says "What???"

I reply, "Biao3zi - dumpling, right?"

"No, thats jiao3zi"


I later looked up biao3zi and realized why she was so suprised.

Stupidly enough I made this mistake again this week when somebody was talking about their father making stuffed buns I asked "You mean like biao3zi?" this time meaning "bao3zi". I realized right away, and she informed me I "knew too much Chinese".

I think I should avoid talking about Chinese food. :)

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Most of mine have been silly, rather than embarrassing.

Once I wanted to say Chinese people are friendly, but I said, "Zhongguo ren hen hao you (好油)" instead of "Zhongguo ren hen you hou(友好)." I guess I said that Chinese people were very oily.

Once I told the matron of my dormitory that my air conditioner was dripping blood (流血), when I meant that it was dripping water(流水). She got really freaked out for a second!

Since I have a little brother, I'm sure I've accidentally said I have a penis many, many times!

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  • 1 month later...
What was your most embarrassing moment while learning Chinese? Here's mine...

tongzhi was a perfectly fine word to describe a friend or comrade. I was quite surprised though by the strange response I got to my question. It was then explained to me that in Taiwan the word tongzhi is most commonly used to describe someone who is gay.

Wix, I looked this up on a dictionary and came up with the following:

同志 tóngzhì comrade

通知 tōnzhī inform, notice circular

通直 tōnzhí straight from top to bottom

童稚tónzhì child childness

同治 tónzhì (historical)Qing reign period (1862-1874)

统治tǒngzhì v. rule; dominate

统制tǒngzhì n。v. control

Do you know how was the tongzhi word you were talking about written in Chinese?


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