没吃葡萄说葡萄酸 – mei2 chi1 pu2tao shuo1 pu2tao suan1
Literal translation – haven’t eaten grapes say grapes sour
Believe that grapes are sour even though you have never eaten a grape.
This is a fairly easy proverb to understand and use. It’s means you have an opinion or judgement about something you have never investigated or know very little about i.e. your opinion has no foundation and you have no right to be passing a judgement on a certain topic or thing. Just like someone who says grapes are sour even though they have never eaten one.
I find this a very useful proverb in China as I often encounter people who’s opinions are just heresay. For example, when people find out that I come from Canada the usual conversation that follows is something along the line of how rich and wonderful Canada is. I like to make sure that Chinese people know 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 that Canada had homeless people and the local refused to believe me. He went on to tell ME what Canada was like even though he had never been there. So the proverb above would have been useful had I known it at that time.
There is another proverb almost the same as the proverb above but with a slightly different meaning :
吃不到葡萄说葡萄酸 – chi1 bu2dao4 pu2tao shuo1 pu2tao suan1
Literal translation – eat not arrive grape say grape sour
Say/believe grapes are sour if you are unable to eat them (in order to falsely comfort oneself)
This proverb or saying is almost the same as the first but the meaning is quite different. It’s common for us as humans to envy what we don’t have or can’t afford. So we often pretend we don’t want the thing we can’t have or afford in an effort to comfort ourselves, but we know what mind games we are trying to play on ourselves and so do the people who hear us try to do so. That’s basically what this expression is meaning. A nice new BMW car drives by and someone says “Wow what a nice car” and you say “Ah BMWs aren’t that great anyway”. You don’t actually believe what you are saying but you say it anyways.
萝卜白菜各有所爱 – luo2bo bai2cai4ge4you3suo3ai4
Literal translation – Turnip Chinese Cabbage each has actual love
Turnip, Cabbage everyone has their own preference
It basically means It means “Everybody has their own personal taste” or “Each persons likes and dislikes are different”
This is one of my MOST used expresssions. If you live in China then this is a MUST learn. Reason being I was sick and tired of going into restaurants and asking for dishes to be modified to the way I like them (i.e. don’t put any hot peppers in, as I don’t like spicey food). Too many times the waitress told me it was “impossible”. When I asked why was it “impossible” the answer was always “because it won’t taste good that way”. I have no idea where this logic possibly comes from and how it can be so common nationwide, but it is. So I was SO happy to stumble upon this idiom/phrase which basically throws a spanner in their logic using their own language. Now I don’t need to argue with the waitresses or explain to them that I have the right to decide what does and doesn’t taste good. Once I get any resistance from the 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 knows how to use such an expression) and they get the point. Strange that such an expression exists in their language but yet they insists on telling others what does and doesn’t taste good.
Anyways, be sure to learn this as you will use it almost daily (or at least almost everytime you go to a restaurant).
关公面前耍大刀 – guan1gong1 mian4qian2 shua1 da4dao1
Literal translation – Guangong (name of famous warlord) in front of play sword
Play with a sword in the presence of Guangong
This basically means to attempt to show ones limited skills in the presence of someone who is highly skilled.
Guangong (also known as 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 of course if someone was attempting to show their swordsmanship in front of Guanyu it would be embarassing, really, as he would be no match for Guanyu.
I especially like the idioms that encompass a little bit of Chinese culture or history like this one. Any idiom involving Guanyu, Zhugeliang and such figures are all the much more intriguing and interesting in my opinion.
The modern day usage of this proverb I think is pretty obvious. If anyone is trying to flaunt their skills in the presence of someone who’s skills surpass the “flaunter” then this proverb applies.
There are 2 sides to its usage I think. One usage is if perhaps you want to express your humility. If someone is more skilled than you in something but you still carry out the task for whatever reason you can say that you are 关公面前耍大刀 – guan1gong1 mian4qian2 shua1 da4dao1. If you say this in this situation you are guaranteed to get a smile or laugh from your chinese friend. Because you are essentially admitting that they are much better than you at this skill (whatever it may be). So it’s a way to give them a compliment or give them some “face”. Further, a foreigner using an expression like this which is close to their hearts is guaranteed to have an excellent reception.
In a negative way this could also be used to sort of put someone in their place i.e. someone who thinks a little bit too much of themselves because they are limitedly skilled in some area. If someone is in their presence whom is much better then this proverb could be used to humble them or to let them realise they should step aside and let the pro take over.
Another idiom that basically carries the same meaning is 班门弄斧 – ban1men2nong4fu3. The meaning is basically the same, but I much prefer using 关公面前耍大刀 – guan1gong1 mian4qian2 shua1 da4dao1 because of the visual image and the cultural content.
Literal meaning of each character = uproot,pull/draw out – young plant/seedling – help – grow
The image portrayed by this useful idiom is of someone pulling at a seedling or small plant thinking it will help it grow faster. This of course is ridiculous as it’s only water, sunshine and time that causes a plant to grow. We cannot make a plant grow faster by pulling at it.
Therefore this idiom is useful when describing someone who tries to force something to go faster than it’s natural process. Something take time no matter what you do, there are no short cuts and patience is needed. If you think someone is pushing you too hard you could use this to tell that person to lay off, but only of course if there pressure or encouragement genuinely has no effect on the result. If a teacher is telling you to do your homework or review class material etc then the idiom doesn’t apply because this idiom is only really applicable to situations where the efforts of another genuinely have no effect on the end result, and perhaps can do harm and even hamper the result.
This idiom can also be rendered as 揠苗助长 – ya4miao2zhu4zhang3 – where the only difference is the first character “ya4” which also means “pull”. However I am told that the above version with “ba2” is more common.
小题大做 – xiao3ti2da4zuo4
Literal meaning of each character = small – problem – big – do/produce
Actually, this is basically the same as the English idiom “make a mountain out of a molehill”. The Chinese version doesn’t use the graphic comparison like we do. They simply say the problem is small but the doing or action is big.
Just in case you don’t know what “make a mountain out of a molehill” means (perhaps you aren’t a native English speaker) this idiom is used to describe when someone is over reacting to a problem. The problem is very small but the person is reacting as if the problem were very big.