Nüháir and Nánháir gets Hăo
The most coveted of all sibling pairs in urban China is one boy and one girl. If you have a set of your own, you’ll constantly hear both men and women of all ages saying this phrase, meaning the Chinese character 好 (hăo for “good”) combines the女 character (nü for woman/female) with the子 character (zi for male son). This character used to be explained as a mother with a son is good, but recently the urban culture has changed to use this phrase to desire one daughter and one son. But in cities outside of Tier 1 status, you might still hear grandmothers expecting women to be able to magically bear a first son, as Northwest China blogger Ruth Silbermayr-Song explains in this post.
If this constant explanation of the character from every taxi driver and neighbor starts to become annoying to you, learn the phrase yourself and say it before they can. It’ll save conversation time and you’ll be able to flaunt your cultural knowledge. (一个男孩儿加一个女孩儿叫好)
If having one child is expected, birthing two kids is going above and beyond in Chinese eyes. Older women and men are the ones most frequently to express this phrase, 金榜 (jīn băng means “gold” or “top marks” or short for the longer phrases meaning “passing the imperial expectations”). Given their age, it makes sense why they’re the ones who frequently make this comment with their thumbs up, expressing their ultimate approval.
Does it ever get old to hear that you’re awesome for laboring through multiple births? Nope. Soak it up.
I can barely take care of one.
Frayed and tired Chinese mothers of young princes will look at you like you’re a super mom if you’ve got more than one kid tagging along with you. Although in most other home countries it is normal to have two or even more children, Chinese families in urban areas have now for several decades stuck to just one child, though rural families are known to have two, sometimes more.
The difference in child rearing makes all the difference, as Chinese grandparents and mothers tend to never let children out of their sight, while Western parents tend to make safe zones for their children where they can be left unattended to play independently. Chinese caretakers also tend to express their affection by doing everything they can for their child, while Western parents foster independence by teaching children to do things on their own at earlier ages. This can result in exhausted Chinese caretakers in comparison to their Western counterparts.
We suggest you patting this mom on the back and explaining the cultural difference so she doesn’t feel completely deflated as a mom fail. You’ll probably make a new friend with this show of compassion.
Are they all yours?
If your children have difference of skin tone, hair and eye combinations, you’ll often get this curious question. The frequency of this question depends on the number of children you actually have. If you just have two, this will be an occasional question, but if you have three or more, the frequency will increase exponentially with the number of public appearances and the number of children you have.
The equation is something like this:
A = number of times you’ll hear “Are they all yours?”
c = number of kids present
p = number of parents present
x = times you go out in public
g = age of observer
D = number of their descendants
Okay, so most Chinese women would never actually say this to you directly, but young, unmarried Chinese women in the urban professional world will imply this about you for having more than one child. The younger you look, the more shocked they’ll be at the amount of your kids. They might ask you if you’re tired all the time or if you have a life. Some might even be bold enough to ask why you had children so young.
Just shrug it off. Their day will come.
Where did you give birth to them?
If only you could share your birth story with all its gritty detail in Chinese right? You’re most likely to hear this question if your children have fluent or near native Chinese or if your children are particularly young. Perhaps this questioner wonders if your children are truly countrymen.
Where’s your mother?
For obvious reasons, you’ll hear this when you’re having a particularly hard day as your two under two are screaming because it’s cold or ripping their facemasks off despite the downpour of lung crushing pollution. Resist the urge to punch a panda when someone snidely asks this. You’ll only get deported, and that won’t be any good.
Instead, ask if their child never cries or remark that your mom likes to work back in your 老家. If you’re in the rural areas, just say your mom said everything you’re doing is a good idea, as “grandma said” is a get-out-of-the-nag-cell-free card.
Are there any I’ve missed? Comment below!
Vanessa Jencks founded China Family Blog to connect internationally-minded parents through semi-humorous stories and China-life-and-parenting fails. She is the former managing editor of beijingkids magazine; see her previous work here. She is also the founder of the 600+ member organization, Innovative Educators.