Why Don’t Girls in China Like Compliments?

Chinese Genera Compliments

We all know those girls who have a hard time taking a compliment.

Well, in China, there are lots of girls who don’t like to be called a “美女 (měinǚ) beauty.”

美女 (měinǚ): n. beautiful woman; beauty.

But why?

In recent years, the appellation “美女 (měinǚ)” has been used overly by people in China.

Before its overuse, we would use “美女 (měinǚ)” to refer to a beautiful girl.

But nowadays, whether beautiful or not, people use “美女 (měinǚ)” to call all young women in China.

In general, people in China use this word to express respect, affection, endearment or to flatter the woman.

It has ended up that this word has accumulated so many different meanings, it is used a LOT. I joke all the time with my friends and students: In China, all women are a “美女 (měinǚ) beauty”.

This is where women in China get a little frustrated: If all women are considered beautiful, then does that word really have any meaning? Is there any real measurement of beauty? To us, it feels as if there is no real beauty at all.

So you can understand why girls don’t like people to call them “美女 (měinǚ).”

◆ Don’t Be Surprised If We Brush Off Your Compliments

In traditional Chinese culture, there is an old saying that goes something like this: “Arrogant people always fall behind the modest ones.”

In Chinese culture people aspire to be modest when responding to praise and regard modesty as an essential virtue.

More often than saying “thank you,” to a compliment, the Chinese often timidly deny or doubt the praise to the praiser.

A Common Response to Compliments in China.

A common response to compliments is this: “哪里哪里 You flatter me (I’m not beautiful)!” (Literally, “哪里哪里 (Năli năli)” means “where, where,” But in fact the contextual meaning is “you flatter me.” It is just a way of expressing modesty.)
People also answer with “真的吗? (Zhēn de ma) Really?

◆ Be Careful! If Your Compliments Are Too Direct, We May Think They Are Lies!

Most Chinese girls give off a vibe that is shy and restrained.

They tend to not give compliments, especially men, in any direct or open-hearted way. Vice versa, they get nervous when receiving exaggerated or direct compliments such as, “你好漂亮 (nǐ hǎo piàoliàng) you are so beautiful!” or “你真美 (nǐ zhēn měi) you are very pretty!”

Its simplicity puts them on guard.

Perhaps this man is speaking this way with all women!

As proof of the uniqueness of the compliment, they look for details. Give examples to show her you have thought this through and are being entirely honest:

Nǐ xiào qǐ lái de shíhòu, yǎnjīng xiàng wānwān de yuèyá. Zhēn hǎokàn!
Your eyes look like the crooked crescent when you smile. So lovely!

In general, Chinese women feel shy if you compliment them directly. If you directly address their way of dressing, or their body (lips, face, nose, etc.), they will start to feel uncomfortable.

So take the time to get to know them and think your compliments through!

HSK 3 quiz

1. Which of the following is NOT an address for a young lady in China?
A. 美女 (měinǚ)

B. 小姐 (xiǎojiě)

C. 姑娘 (gūniang)

D. 先生 (xiānsheng)

Chinese Culture
General Chinese (Beginner Level) 
General Chinese (Intermediate Level) 

— Written by Jennifer Zhu —

Jennifer Zhu is a professional Chinese teacher from eChineseLearning. She has many years of Chinese language teaching experience and received her B.A. and M.A. in “Teaching Chinese as a Second Language.”

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