In its simplest form, the word “方便 (fāngbiàn)” is an adjective that means “convenient.” A good example is “方便面 (fāngbiànmiàn) instant noodles,” literally “convenient noodles.” However, Focke, an American, only knew this word as a verb with the colloquial meaning “to go to the toilet/use the restroom” (much like the British expression “to use the convenience.”) When at dinner with a Chinese woman, for example, she might excuse herself by saying “我要去方便一下。 (Wǒ yào qù fāngbiàn yí xià).” Knowing only this meaning, Focke misunderstood when someone asked him, “你什么时候方便，我想请你吃饭。 (Nǐ shénme shíhou fāngbiàn, wǒ xiǎng qǐng nǐ chīfàn).” He thought this meant, “When do you go to the bathroom? I want to take you to dinner.” Of course, he was shocked!
Actually, when used as a verb, “方便 (fāngbiàn)” can have different meanings, only one of which is “to go to the toilet.” The second meaning of “方便 (fāngbiàn)” is to ask someone if he/she has time, or whether something is suitable. For instance, if a boy wants to take a girl to dinner, he might say, “请问你什么时候方便, 我想请你吃个饭。 (Qǐng wèn nǐ shénme shíhou fāngbiàn, wǒ xiǎng qǐng nǐ chī gè fàn),” which means “When are you free? I would like to treat you to dinner.”
Lastly, this word can be used as a noun meaning “favor.” If someone says to you, “行个方便嘛！ (Xíng ge fāngbiàn ma)!” they mean “Please do me a favor!”
“方便 (fāngbiàn)” is a great word to know because it is very versatile and can be used in a variety of different situations.
Rǔguǒ nǐ fāngbiàn de huà, wǒmen jiù bǎ huìyì dìng zài míngtiān.
如果 你 方便 的 话，我们 就把 会议 定 在 明天。
If it’s convenient for you, let’s schedule the meeting tomorrow.
Xíng ge fāngbiàn ba, xiàcì jué bù máfan nǐ le!
行 个 方便 吧，下次 绝 不 麻烦 你了！
Please do me a favor, I promise this is the last time I will trouble you!
Zhège chéngshì de jiāotōng hěn fāngbiàn.
这个 城市 的 交通 很 方便。
The transportation in this city is very convenient.
Wǒmen qù nàbian ba, zhèlǐ shuōhuà bù fāngbiàn.
我们 去 那边 吧，这里 说话 不 方便。