Below are a few Chinese proverbs, sayings and quotes or expressions that I have found extremely useful. They are all developed in pinyin as Chinese characters may not display properly here.
Chinese Pinyin: “mei chi putao shuo putao suan”
Literal translation – haven’t eaten grapes say grapes sour
Believe that grapes are sour even if you have never eaten a grape.
This is a reasonably easy proverb to understand and use. It’s means you possess an opinion or judgment about something you haven’t investigated or know very little about i.e. your opinion doesn’t have foundation and you’ve got no right to be passing a judgment on a certain topic or thing. Just like someone who says grapes are sour though they have never eaten one.
I find this a very useful proverb in China as I often encounter people that’s opinions are only heresay. For example, when we find out that I come from Canada the most common conversation that follows is something along the distinct how rich and wonderful Canada is. I like to make certain that Chinese people realize that Canada has poor people too, the streets AREN’T paved with gold despite what they may think or hear. One time I told someone who Canada had homeless people and also the local refused to imagine me. He went on to tell ME what Canada was like despite the fact that he had never had the experience. So the proverb above would have been useful had I known it in those days.
There is yet another proverb almost the same as the proverb above however with a slightly different meaning:
Chinese Pinyin: “chi budao putao shuo putao suan”
Literal translation – eat not arrive grape say grape sour
Say/believe grapes are sour should you be unable to eat them (so that you can falsely comfort oneself)
This proverb or saying is practically the same as the first but the meaning is pretty different. It’s common for people as humans to envy what we should don’t have or can’t afford. So we often pretend unfortunately we cannot want finished . we can’t have or afford in an effort to comfort ourselves, but we realize what mind games we are trying to play on ourselves so do the people that hear us try and do so. That’s basically what this expression is meaning. A nice new BMW car drives by and someone says “Wow that of a nice car” and you also say “Ah BMWs aren’t exceptional anyway”. You don’t actually believe what you’re saying however you say it anyways.
Chinese Pinyin: “guangong mianqian shua dadao”
Literal translation – Guangong (name of famous warlord) in front of play sword
Play using a sword inside the presence of Guangong
This basically way to attempt to show ones limited skills in the presence of someone who is highly trained.
Guangong (also called Guanyu) was a noted excellent swordsman. No one dared challenge him to a sword fight, sort of like a Billy the Kid of Chinese history. So needless to say if someone was wanting to show their swordsmanship before Guanyu it will be embarrassing, really, because he would be no match for Guanyu.
I especially just like the idioms that encompass a bit of Chinese culture or history exactly like it. Any idiom involving Guanyu, Zhugeliang and such figures are all the much more intriquing, notable and interesting for me.
The modern-day usage of the proverb I think is pretty obvious. If anyone is wanting to flaunt their skills inside presence of somebody who’s skills surpass the “flaunter” next the proverb applies.
There are 2 sides to its usage I think. One usage is that if perhaps you need to express your humility. If someone is a lot more skilled than you in something but you still carry out the task for reasons unknown you can say that you are guan1gong1 mian4qian2 shua1 da4dao1. If you say this in this situation you happen to be guaranteed to have a smile or laugh from your chinese friend. Because you happen to be essentially admitting that they are much devzpky03 than you with this skill (whatever it might be). So it’s a method to give them a compliment or let them have some “face”. Further, a foreigner having an expression like this which is near to their hearts is certain to have an excellent reception.
In a negative way this may also be used to sort of put someone inside their place i.e. someone who thinks slightly too much of themselves because they’re limitedly skilled in most area. If someone is inside their presence whom is much better than the proverb may be used to humble them or to let them realise they should step aside and allow the pro take over.
Another idiom that truly carries the same meaning is ban1men2nong4fu3. The meaning is basically exactly the same, but I much prefer using guan1gong1 mian4qian2 shua1 da4dao1 because of the visual image and the cultural content.
Chinese Pinyin: “luobo baicai ge you suo ai”
Literal translation – Turnip Chinese Cabbage they all have actual love
Turnip, Cabbage all people have their own preference
It basically means It means “Everybody has their own personal taste” or “Each persons needs and wants are different”
This is one of my MOST used expressions. If you live in China this is a MUST learn. Reason being I was sick and tired of going into restaurants and seeking dishes being modified for the way I like them (i.e. don’t put any hot peppers in, as I don’t like spicy food). Too many times the waitress said it was “impossible”. When I asked why was it “impossible” the solution was always “because it’s not going to taste good that way”. I have no idea where this logic possibly emanates from and how it can be so common nationwide, but it’s. So I was SO pleased to stumble upon this idiom/phrase which basically throws a spanner inside their logic using their own language. Now I don’t must argue with all the waitresses or reveal to them that I have the to certainly decide what does and doesn’t taste good. Once I get any resistance from your staff regarding my desires to change the dishes to my liking I simply utter the proverb/saying above and they normally smile (surprised a foreigner learns how to use this type of expression) and they get the point. Strange that this type of expression exists within their language but yet they insists on telling others precisely what does and doesn’t taste good.