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  • Rochelle Beiersdorfer

The Language of Love (Part 1): Cheesy Come-ons in Chinese

Updated: Jun 16, 2021

Accompanied with personal stories about pick-up lines and flirting in Mandarin Chinese, this first part of two looks at five of the most dad joke worthy pick-up lines. Originally posted on WeChat (Sept. 15th, 2020) via the independent media group and podcast Date Night China, this perspective piece was also reposted on The Beijinger’s website (Oct. 26th, 2020) with no edits.

See original posting here. See The Beijinger posting here.


Love is a universal language and, sometimes, the bane of our existence.  Throughout the ages, love has been the subject of countless songs, pieces of fine art, movies, novels, philosophical discourse and conversations between friends. It’s a major part of being. Since the creation of the internet, the quickest way to see how infatuated we are with love is to do a Google, Bing or Baidu search.   When it comes to flirting and pick-up lines in Mandarin Chinese, the number of blog posts, YouTube videos, forum board discussions (that’s still a thing!?) and Chinese language learning resources all chatting about, explaining and analyzing love, pick-up lines and flirting is overwhelming.  In this two part post, we will be adding to the information overload with our own blurb on some of the top, cringe-worthy pick-up lines and typical flirting tactics when flirting in Mandarin Chinese.  The more the merrier! As a single woman whose dating life has been most active in China using pǔtōnghuà (普通话 n. Mandarin Chinese), the pick-up lines and flirting tactics discussed below are all ones that I’ve either personally used (with my tongue fully lodged in my cheek!), experienced (endured!) and/or have overheard repeatedly.  So, let’s get to upgrading your mingling game and your dad jokes arsenal! First, the “down-to-earth language of love” pick-up lines… Pick-up lines are either hit or miss.  Usually miss. But when they’re well thought-out, super witty and show a level of originality and an acute sense of humor, it’s a surefire way to spark a conversation. However, this usually isn’t the case.  More often than not, pick-up lines in any language are overused way past their prime with little variation. In Mandarin Chinese, these groan-inducing da shan (搭讪 dā shàn v. to hit on sb.) tactics are referred to as tǔ wèi qínghuà (土味情话). When directly translated into English, tǔ wèi qínghuà (土味情话) would be dirt flavored sweet nothings, which, if you’ve ever been on the receiving end, is pretty spot on: they do leave a weird, mental discomfort, dirt-like aftertaste and are definitely empty calories. To separate the phrase into its parts: Qínghuà (情话) means lovers’ banter or sweet nothings.  It is the sappy chatter between lovebirds that either puts giddy butterflies in your stomach when you’re one of the two or makes you want to puke when you’re the third wheel (当/做电灯泡 dāng/zuò diàndēngpào). Tǔ wèi (土味) is a slang term that denotes something as being outdated or out of touch with what’s now considered cool. In other words, it’s not tǔ kù (土酷 too cool).

Here are five of the best worst pick-up lines in Chinese explained.

1. Did it hurt when you fell from heaven? 你从天上掉下来的时候疼不疼? Nǐ cóng tiānshàng diào xiàlái de shíhòu téng bù téng? This one is arguably the most quintessential, textbook example of a pickup line in any language.  From movie dialogues, song lyrics and a plethora of memes, to cite a few examples, this cheesy one-liner has made the rounds in both Western pop culture and Singles’ Nights to the chagrin of many. In China this angelic conversation starter is also an overused 泡妞术语 (pàoniū shùyǔ n. pick-up lines) of novice PUAs (Pick-up-artist). The first time a guy approached me in a Beijing bar in the hopes of scoring he used this line. Unsurprisingly, he failed at romancing me, but not because of the lameness of his icebreaker. At that time, my Chinese proficiency was quite elementary and I simply didn’t understand what he was asking. Ouch.

2. Your dwelling, my heart!    A:你在哪儿住? A: Nǐ zài nǎ'er zhù? A: Where do you live? B:我在XXX住。 B: Wǒ zài XXX zhù. B: I live at/in XXX. A: 不, 你住在我心里. A: Bù, nǐ zhù zài wǒ xīnlǐ. A: No, you live in my heart. I don’t know why, maybe because I’m a yang niu (洋妞  yáng niū n. a young foreign female.), but when matching with Chinese guys on Tantan (a Chinese dating app), this was the corny line that a lot of them assumed would be an infallible way to woo me. It didn’t and if I get asked again where I live with the punchline being in their heart, I’m moving under a rock!

3. Can you tell me the your heart? A:能告诉我怎么走呢? A: Néng gàosù wǒ zěnme zǒu ne? A: Able to tell me how to go? B:走到哪儿? B: Zǒu dào nǎ'er? B: To where? A:你心里. A: Nǐ xīnlǐ. A: Your heart. It hasn’t been scientifically tested, but I’m pretty sure you can develop diabetes from this high fructose corn syrup of a come-on. Another phony question ending at the heart, this one will leave the person you’re trying to win over lost on the direction of the conversation. I suggest making a hard left and just giving a genuine compliment instead.

4. Besides being a beautiful woman/handsome man, what do you do for a living?    除了当做美女/帅哥,你是做什么的? Chúle dàngzuò měinǚ/shuàigē, nǐ shì zuò shénme de? Besides being questioned about where I lived and being corrected that it wasn’t an apartment in Beijing’s inner city, but instead inside a vital organ, another line that was overused by people I matched with on Tantan was this one.  It’s a nice compliment the first few times, but, after the 25th time of insincerely being asked about what you do just so they can call you a beautiful woman (美女 měinǚ), it gets old.  

5. The Flame That Fuels a Burning Passion   A:请问,你有打火机吗? A: Qǐngwèn, nǐ yǒu dǎhuǒjī ma? A: Excuse me, do you have a light? B:没有。 B: Méiyǒu. B: No. A: 那你是怎么点燃我的心的? A: Nà nǐ shì zěnme diǎnrán wǒ de xīn de? A: Then how did you ignite my heart? Being that I am a self-acclaimed music maniac, you can usually spot me at a show a few times a week. Along with the earsplitting, sonic euphoria that is live music, the fad of smoking is ubiquitous at shows.  Most of the guys and gals I’ve met at concerts in China smoke because a) they think it looks cool and/or b) most everyone else is doing it.  So, just like how regularly the streets outside of venues are spotted with cigarette butts, this pick-up line is a constant at dive bar gigs and open air music festivals alike.  I don’t smoke but have contemplated starting to carry a lighter in my bag just to stomp this pick-up line out before it starts a fire.  Safety first.

Now that you’ve been exposed to five of the best worst pick-up lines, get out there and make unknowing targets blush, chuckle and internally cringe.  In the second part of this two part post about pick-up lines and flirting in Mandarin Chinese be ready to move to second base by developing your flirting skills.

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