BEIJING – Don’t ask a tourist’s age or wage, steer clear of sex and avoid religion: what many Chinese consider idle chit-chat has now become the latest area of censure in Beijing as it prepares for an influx of Olympic visitors.
Posters displayed on bulletin boards in the neighbourhood which includes tourist magnet the Forbidden City, and which will host Olympics boxing events, counsel locals against a wide range of potentially awkward conversation topics with foreigners.
The list of “eight don’t asks” was issued by the Dongcheng district Propaganda Department as a guide for locals about how to show proper hospitality, a department spokesman said.
“Don’t ask about income or expenses, don’t ask about age, don’t ask about love life or marriage, don’t ask about health, don’t ask about someone’s home or address, don’t ask about personal experience, don’t ask about religious beliefs or political views, don’t ask what someone does,” the Olympics logo stamped poster advises.
Several etiquette guidelines have already been issued in the run-up to the Games, as China prepares to put its best foot forward with a faultless event.
The government has campaigned to curb queue-jumping, spitting, littering and even speaking loudly in public, fearful such behaviour could mar Beijing’s image.
While some said the guidelines may make people feel nervous about chatting with the 500,000 overseas visitors expected in Beijing for the Aug. 8-24 Games, others questioned the need for them in lively discussions on the Internet.
“Other than the weather what else are you suppose to talk about?” asked one blogger, posting on the New York Craiglist website in response to the list.
“Are there also eight ‘don’t tell’s’?” asked another on the popular Shanghai blog, Shanghaiist (http://shanghaiist.com.)
“While ‘Eight Don’t Asks’ is a general practice in the States … I don’t understand why Chinese living in China should follow this rather western guideline,” wrote “LC” on another English-language site carrying photos of the posters.
Others online defended the list as a way to bridge cultural gaps and avoid confused reactions from visitors to questions often asked in China and that some might find too intrusive.
“Many Chinese coming to Beijing from around the country have had little or no contact with laowai,” said “Ni hao Aussie” on the Thorntree website, using the Mandarin word for foreigner.
“We are a strange breed to many locals, whose curiousity may take them over the bounds of what many foreigners consider decent.”
But for at least one blogger, the suggestions struck a chord.
“I want one of these posters!!” wrote “littlepoem” enthusiastically on Shanghaiist.
“I think my Aiyi (housekeeper) needs to read it. Perhaps then she can stop asking me how much everything is.”