Good evening and welcome to another week of Chinese! ‘Raw Day’ seems to be an odd title and might have left you scurrying around the internet for Chinese oddities when you read it at the end of last week, but a 生日 is the day when you are raw, or (a slightly odd translation given what it means in this context) unprocessed or green – in other words, the day of your birth.
Oddity number one! Chinese babies are not 0 when they are born, but they are actually one already. There is a complex system apparently used throughout all of East Asia to do with solar cycles, but it’s becoming more and more popular to use Western ages – and that’s why when you say your age, you say 我20岁 with the number in digits. But it’s not as easy as that – as always, Chinese has careful social structures behind asking anything personal. An easy way to go about asking someone’s age without being rude is to ask their zodiac sign, and guess from there, but it seems a very convoluted way to ask age. Maybe the smiles from 你多大? in One, Two, Three, What?! might not be from my obviously stellar language skills, but instead from another dumb Westerner being outright and blatantly asking something as shockingly personal as age.
Oddity number 2! Some birthdays require special rituals, or are too unlucky to be celebrated at all. For men, the age of 40 is very unlucky, so they stay 39 for two years. Some Chinese men do not celebrate any birthdays until 60 just to be clear of the curses which come from, erm, being 40. Aged 33, women must buy a piece of meat, hide behind the kitchen door (I’m not making this up, honest) and chop the meat 33 times. Then again at 66, either the woman’s daughter or her closest female relative must hide behind the door and cut the meat 66 times. It’s never said what, exactly, will happen if you fail to mutilate a piece of perfectly good meat into 33 slices, but Chinese people have three words to respond to that – Friday the thirteenth?
And finally – oddity number 3. You know that feeling where you’ve got a strand of spaghetti on your fork and it seems to just keep on going? In some parts of China, a whole bowl will be filled with one strand of noodle, which then must be eaten, to represent longevity (apparently). Sorry Italy, China is the king of spaghetti without even realising it.
Things I’ve learned this week:
- Chinese kids are so far ahead of the West they’re just awarded an extra year at birth anyway
- Hiding behind the kitchen door and attacking meat is normal behaviour for someone of 33.
- China beats Italy at noodles and spaghetti. No contest
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