This should be Chinese 101

Compliments of a friend, who wishes to remain anonymous: How to politely avoid questions!

Discussing one’s income is not considered taboo amongst Chinese people.  However, many of us foreigners would prefer not to divulge such information.  Here are some strategies you can use to avoid the question without causing the questioner to lose face.

These few phrases answer the “How much do you make?” type questions. However, it can easily be adapted to fit other probing questions.

1. 不算太高。(bù suàn tài gāo) It [our income] is not considered very high.

2. 那要看公词和个人的情况。(nà yào kàn gōngsī hé gèrén de qíngkuàng)  It depends on the company’s and individual’s situation.

3. 还行吧/还可以/还凑合/马马虎虎。(hái xíng ba/ hái kěyǐ/ hái còuhe/ mǎmǎhǔhǔ) Not bad.

And my favorite…

4. 比上不足,比下有余。(bǐ shàng bùzú, bǐ xià yǒuyú) Better than some, but not as good as others. i.e. average.

We also learned that you can say things like 怎么说呢? (zěnme shuō ne/how should I say it?) and jump to a different topic completely, avoiding giving any answer.
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2 Responses to “This should be Chinese 101”


  1. 1 Dave May 18, 2010 at 1:03 am

    怎麼說呢 i’ve always used as ‘how so?’.
    So if someone says, for example: 我認為經濟已開始復甦了 (I think the economy is already recovering), then I would say ‘怎麼說呢?” which means ‘how so?’ or ‘how do you figure that the economy is recovering?’.

    I liked the 比上不足,比下有餘, not heard that one before :)

  2. 2 Syz May 18, 2010 at 10:35 am

    Like Dave I’d never heard 比上不足,比下有余 before. Cool. An even simpler one I use all the time is 没多少, which seems to work surprisingly well for being a non-answer.


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