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Chinese culture

Culture Note: Never say to a Chinese girl they are tanned!

Ha, as I write down this post’s title, I can just imagine you are frowning, and my husband’s immediate nodding, and my (western) friends’ laughing…

As I walk down the beach in the sun, the thought that “I am going to be dark soon” is always crossing my mind. I know, in the West, we talk about “getting a tan”, but in China things are very different.

So I thought I’d better write this culture note as soon as possible, before the end of the summer.

When I say “culture”, I don’t really mean it: it is more like modern common knowledge among Chinese girls. It all started with a basic beauty principle in China: having white skin.

Traditionally, having white skin has been associated with being good-looking and healthy. For example, to describe a baby, people from older generation would still say, “baibai jingjing”, or “Baibai pangpang”, as he or she has a “white and clean” face or “white and chubby” (in a cute way) . Or in many traditional literaturary works, when describing people with very good appearance, they would say “they have really white skin with healthy pinkish glow on the cheeks”.

Anyway, being white has become extremely popular in East Asia. There are many expensive skin products whose only aim is to whiten the skin. And when the sun is strong, especially in summer, you can see many people holding umbrellas walking in the sun.

To be fair, traditionally, people never liked to have the strong sun directly on the face and body, (I guess the same happened in the West…

In China, there is a type of umbrella sold for summer sun, we call it “sun umbrella”, with good UV protection as well. But if you see many girls holding umbrellas all the time, that means they are trying to avoid all the possibilities to get tanned for sure.

I have seen lots of friends trying everything to get whiter, it is almost the same as those girls in the West try to get tanned by sunbathing or applying fake tan. Oh… the world is a funny place, really difficult to find satisfacton in what we have.

When you tell a girl that she is tanned, I am sure that your intention is to praise her. DO NOT ever tell this to a Chinese girl, it can be really impolite, very rude. Especially, summer is here, everyone might get tanned at some degree, but never say to a Chinese girl.
Culture clash, culture clash. :))

However, not everyone thinks the same. Mentioning all these, I have to give full credits to all my close Chinese friends. I am naturally… not white (far east type of white), but not very tanned either. Thanks to all my friends, (the friends I made since we were little, the age we just started concerning ‘beauty’), which influenced me a great time.

I have never been bothered for not being ‘white’ — all of my friends think that my skin tone has a healthy and natural colour, and never had to whiten my skin or fake the tan.
My life is way simpler: no need for whitening products, or having to carry umbrella all the time. (I am always lazy to use them or carry an umbrella anyway.)

I mean I never agree with extremely ‘white’ or ‘tan’, but I do respect others’ opinion.
So… how much I have changed since I came to Europe? —- A question I have been asked many many times. Here is an example. One day, I just came back from a holiday in China, it was in February, northeast was still in very cold winter, but with bright sun, only by staying indoors on the balcony, I already got very tanned. A English friend saw me and asked with surprise, “you tanned?” He meant even in winter in Northeast. I pulsed a little bit — I never cared if people say that I am tanned (not white), but in this situation I do need to find a correct way to answer to his ‘praise’, “Thank you!’ — I answered.

Related posts:

Children’s day in China
Culture Note: Chinese Chopsticks
112. Chinese hot-pot (part III)
Culture note: St. Valentine’s day in China


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