Dongbei Bluntness

I have mentioned before that my ayi Xiao Wang is from Dongbei (东北, China’s northeast). I like her a lot, and perhaps one of the reasons is her impressive capacity for bluntness.

A while ago I was setting up an electric fan for her so she wouldn’t be so hot when she’s cooking in the kitchen. At first I thought it was broken, because when I pressed any of the buttons from speed 1 to 3, nothing happened. It was definitely plugged in securely in a good socket. What I forgot about was that some of these fans have a “oscillation” dial that controls degree of oscillation, but it can also be set to “off.” This means that there are two places the fan can be set to off, and if either are set to off, the fan stays off.

A little while after I incorrectly concluded the fan was broken, Xiao Wang realized the problem and got the fan working. I asked her what the problem had been. She responded, “You were so stupid! It was turned off on the direction dial.” Ah, thanks Xiao Wang. Always the charmer.

Then when Mark visited recently, she gave him a little taste of her bluntness as well:

> Your Chinese isn’t that good…. I don’t completely understand what you’re trying to say. Can people understand you in Taiwan? [source]

I can attest to the fact that Mark’s Chinese is not bad at all. Likely the main problem was Xiao Wang is not used to a variety of accents (especially foreign ones).

There was one other incident that made me feel really bad. Xiao Wang bought a bag of fresh peaches for us. She bought them on a Thursday and left them on the kitchen counter. She doesn’t come for most of the weekend, and I happened to be super busy that weekend, so I totally forgot about them. When she showed up the next Sunday she discovered most of them had spoiled. She made a big fuss about how I had needlessly let good peaches go to waste, and she had bought them as a gift for us with her own money (this I didn’t realize) for 10 RMB. She made it very clear that she was upset. I apologized profusely and ate some peaches right away from the parts that hadn’t spoiled.

Xiao Wang is a good lady, but she’s blunt to the core. Gotta love her.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. i don’t know if bluntness is really a dongbei character per se, i didn’t run into that many people like xiao wang in my 2.5 years living in dongbei. but she definitely doesn’t sound like she’d be very good at doing business ANYWHERE in china…hehe

  2. haha!! poor Mark!!! 😀
    havent heard his oral, but i think his writing is pretty good.

    yea, dezza. bluntness is really a Dongbei character. most people from Dongbei are blunt. i am as well, i m trying to be as nice as possible though. 😛

  3. I wish all the strangers who stare at foreigners on the street had a chance to hear what ayis like Xiao Wang have to say–at least they’ll come to understand that Lao Wais are just like us, they also do stupid things. Hehe…

  4. I don’t mind people telling me like it is, but it helps when the criticism is constructive. This doesn’t appear to be the case here. But then again, she’s not his language teacher…

    Well, now I’ve finally put together that Lennet is your roomate or something. I share a Tunghai university connection with him myself. Small world.

  5. I wasn’t offended by her at all. To be honest, I found her bluntness really refreshing. I wish I knew more people who were that direct.

  6. you ate the peaches?
    you are so lovely!

  7. I am from dongbei and I know a lot of dongbeiren like your ayi. They tell people what they think without second thought. You can say they don’t care if their opinions will hurt people or they don’t have the so-called standards in their mind about how a polite person expresses their feelings (or how to hide yourself to avoid being disliked).

    I like to deal with them. I am no longer a person who has their bluntness after plenty of lessons I learned from the reality.

    Education is not a good thing at all the time and in every aspect. It kills some natural characteristics of humanbeing.

  8. “You’re so fat.” “What an ugly girl.” “He is a stupid boy.”

    And once, directed at me when I dropped a cake on the road, “You’re so clumsy. Ha ha ha ha!” True, of course.

    But aside from these cute little comments, I think dongbeiren are very indirect.

  9. Most of us could be very direct with you if we know you well, unlike the southerners who just enjoy playing mind games with you. But young people these days know to tune down the offensive side in our directness:)

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