Eating vinegar

Eating in Chinese can mean a lot more

NB: Mouse-over the Chinese words for a quick translation, click for a dictionary entry with more information.

Chinese people love to eat, in the literal sense — China now has 62 million obese citizens, the most in the world behind the USA — but also metaphorically. For one, "'你吃饭了吗?' is a very popular way to greet a friend. Just like the American 'How are you doing?', the idea isn't to reply with a detailed report of what you just had for lunch, it's just another way of saying 'hi'.

Eating, literally.

'吃' is also used to express a range of actions and emotions: '吃苦', means 'to endure hardship'; '吃亏', means 'to suffer', or 'to suffer losses'; '吃惊', means 'to be startled'; '吃力' means 'to toil at a task' or 'strenuous'. '吃香', is more uplifting; it means 'to be popular'.

People in a relationship are probably familiar with '吃醋' , which means 'to be jealous'. There's also '吃豆腐', which also means 'to flirt'. 'To flirt with someone' is 'to eat his/her tofu': '吃她的豆腐' .

If that's a little much to remember, just keep in mind that in any case, if you eat vinegar because someone who eats something fragrant is eating your girlfriends tofu, you need to make him eat something bitter.


Kevin writes columns for the GoEast Blog on studying Chinese, Chinese culture, and life as a foreign student. He has studied China and Chinese for over five years, first in his home country the Netherlands, then in Beijing, and now attends Fudan University's Chinese Society department.


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