How to say ‘a party of four’ in Chinese

In mainland China, when you enter a restaurant, a waitress or waiter will ask you, “Jǐweì?” (几位?) “How many people in your party?”  means “how many” and weì is a measure word for “guest.”  It is also the first character in the word for seat.

You can answer in two ways: (1) sìweì (四位) “four seats or guests” or (2) sìgerén (四个人) “four persons.”

The people in Taiwan are a little more superstitious.  They avoid saying the word for four, , because it sounds like the word for “death” in Chinese. It wasn’t long ago that you could not find a 4th floor button on the elevators, either!  They avoid saying “four” in the restaurant by saying,  sān jiā yī  (三 加 一) “Three plus one.”  Obviously, you would never give a cash gift of forty dollars or celebrate a birthday at 40 years old there.

You can learn more Chinese for getting seated in restaurant here in this free lesson.

Here’s a video lesson I found on Youtube.




How to say “Birds of a Feather Flock Together” in Chinese

The idiom that expresses “birds of a feather flock together” isn’t expressed so vividly in Chinese as it is in English, but it is a very useful and often-used phrase.  Surprise your Chinese friends.  It is expressed as wùyǐleìjù ( 物以类聚): “things,”   yǐleì “the same category,”  “get together.”  If you are learning Chinese and are enthusiastic, find some other enthusiastic birds to flock with. You will learn a lot faster.  You’ll find it flocking easy.


Qian Ren Qing and Social Obligation

Chinese relationships can get very complicated, especially when they teeter on who owes who?  Accepting help, favors, gifts, and even compliments can mean that you qiàn rénqíng  ( 欠 人 清 ) “owe someone something (e.g. a favor).”   Asking for favors can put you in debt to someone, and sooner or later you may be expected to reciprocate.  Fulfilling your “social obligations” is important. It maintains “your face.” Doing favors, giving gifts, or even paying compliments, on the other hand, can in debt someone to you. In business, it similar to “building goodwill.”

You can avoid owing too much to others by restricting your requests for help, reciprocating with gifts of equal value, and deflecting compliments using na3 li3 “where” or other humble, self-depreciating, or compliment-passing techniques.  However, be careful.  If someone truly does owe you a big favor or wants to put on a big show, then it might cause him to “lose face” if you refuse help or refuse a gift. A gift is always pondered very carefully–”how much it is worth, what is it expressing, what are they re-paying me for, is it an appropriate gift considering my relationship with them, and even what do they want in return?”  It may sound very shallow to you, but it is, in fact, easier to handle because keeping a list is easier than trying to ascertain how deep allegiances and friendships are.

Therefore, this giving and receiving helps maintain “face” and “validates friendships.”

Duibuqi vs. Baoqian

Dui4buqi2 (对不起) is the Chinese word for “sorry.”  It can also be used to mean “excuse me,” for example if someone has to ask you to move aside on the bus or elevator when he or she wants to get off.  A westerner may find it strange for someone to be apologizing to him on such occasions.  It can also be use to interrupt someone while he or she is speaking, if necessary. Bao4 qian4 is a more direct way of apologizing and is not often used to excuse one’s self. You can practice Dui4buqi2 (对不起) here.

Here’s a lesson by Peggy in Taiwan.  She uses bu hao yisi, “I’m embarrassed,” to mean “excuse me” and duibuqi to mean “I’m sorry.”  The boy replies meiguanxi, meaning “it doesn’t matter” or “no sweat.”

Here’s a song.  Dui bu qi.  The Pinyin is here. Get someone to explain it to you in English.

And another one you might enjoy.  Beginning Chinese learners, I guess. Duibuqi. Wo shi Meiguoren. Wode Zhongwen buhao.  Meiguanxi.

Difficulty in Chinese


High beginning or Intermediate learners of Chinese might be interested in the uses of nan2 “difficult.”  Dave Flynn at Chinese Hacks explains 5 uses of ‘nan2′ on Chinese Hacks.

Here a music video with Nan2 in it in the chorus.  It comes from an untitled work by an Tang Dynasty poet.  Sorry, no pinyin.  Just Chinese and English in the notes.