So, you’ve been traveling a little around China.
Now you want to know how to score a few dates, and eventually find a nice Chinese girlfriend or boyfriend.
It’s the natural next step, right?
If you’re coming from the Western world, where pick up lines abound and people are actually receptive to them—at least, to a certain extent—you’ll need to adjust your game for breaking the ice and flirting in Mandarin Chinese.
Let’s start out with the basics.
Do Pick Up Lines Exist in Mandarin Chinese?
Pick up lines are very much a Western phenomenon, and as such, they’re extremely uncommon in China.
In general, what we think of as “pick up lines” are probably best avoided—even the wittiest examples. I know, it’s a darn shame, but native Chinese speakers are simply not used to using or hearing this kind of language, and they usually won’t understand what you’re trying to get at.
Most male-female relationships in China are founded on plain, simple and polite introductions, and most Chinese guys are so painfully shy that randomly approaching a girl is completely out of the question.
Fortunately, these restrictions don’t entirely apply to foreigners, who as outsiders are able to flout the rules of social behavior to a certain degree.
My advice is to avoid cheesy pick up lines—known in Chinese as 泡妞术语 (pào niū shù yǔ)—or hitting on people, which is referred to in Chinese as 搭讪 (dā shàn). That beautiful Chinese girl simply won’t be expecting corny one-liners such as:
你是什么星座的？(nǐ shì shí me xīng zuò dí ？)
What’s your sign?
Lines like these will likely just go straight over the heads of native Chinese speakers. Awkwardness will ensue.
So, I’m going to do you a massive favor and steer you clear of this type of “pick up line.” Instead, I’ll show you how to strike up a casual, flirtatious conversation with anyone who strikes your eye—in a more natural, indirect Chinese way.
The Subtle Art of the Mandarin Chinese Pick Up Line
First of all, you need to understand that, when being approached, the average Chinese person won’t even expect a foreigner to be able to speak Chinese. Their ears will usually be anticipating English, and so it’s best to start off very slowly with a simple:
你好 (nǐ hǎo)
Once the person you’re speaking with realizes that you’re indeed speaking Chinese, you can continue with a polite:
请问一下 (qǐng wèn yī xià )
打扰一下 (dǎ rǎo yī xià )
sorry to bother you
This will kill two birds with one stone. It will confirm in your speaking partner’s mind that this is going to be a Chinese conversation and, if you’re a man approaching a woman, it will also take advantage of the stereotype that all Western men behave like gentlemen.
Continue by asking:
你会讲英语吗？(nǐ huì jiǎng yīng yǔ má ？)
Can you speak English?
If she replies:
不会 (bù huì)
Then smile and ask cheekily:
但是你会讲汉语吗？(dàn shì nǐ huì jiǎng hàn yǔ má ？)
But you can speak Chinese?
Which, of course, she can—so this should elicit a smile or giggle, and at least break the ice. You then continue with:
我的汉语水平还没有那么高，但是我会试一下 (wǒ de hàn yǔ shuǐ pínɡ hái méi yǒu nà me ɡāo，dàn shì wǒ huì shì yí xià)
My Chinese level is not that high but I will try.
Suddenly, you’re in like Flynn. If she replies to your initial question with an English “yes” or a Chinese 一点 (yì diǎn) a little, you simply continue with:
好，但是今天我要练习我的汉语 (hǎo，dàn shì jīn tiān wǒ yào liàn xí wǒ de hàn yǔ)
Great, but today I want to practice my Chinese.
This is about as complicated as pick up lines get in China. Now that you have her attention, you can talk about anything you like. What you actually say is of very little importance as long as you maintain your confidence and are showing a sufficiently male intent.
If she looks like a tourist, you can ask:
你在这儿旅游吗？(nǐ zài zhè ér lǚ yóu má ？)
Are you here traveling?
If she looks like an office girl, try:
你在上班吗？(nǐ zài shàng bān má ？)
Are you on your way to work?
If she looks like a rich girl trying to kill time, go for:
你现在去逛街吗？(nǐ xiàn zài qù guàng jiē má ？)
Are you going shopping?
Chinese girls are generally quite shy and are usually only used to being approached in the street by high-pressure salesmen or overly-aggressive beggars. This means that you won’t be able to expect much of a response from her beyond a few simple “yes” or “no” answers. This also means that you’ll have to do all the talking, at least for the first few minutes.
If it’s a nice day out, try:
今天天气非常好 (jīn tiān tiān qì fēi cháng hǎo)
Today’s weather is wonderful
蓝蓝的天空白白的云 (lán lán dí tiān kōng bái bái dí yún)
blue skies and white clouds
What’s most important, as you continue chatting away, is to let her know that this isn’t some random encounter. So, you must show her very clearly that you’re interested in her. Do this by maintaining strong eye contact, smiling and maybe even touching her casually on the arm or shoulder, in the same way that you would any close friend.
在很近的地方有一个很舒服的咖啡厅 (zài hěn jìn de dì fɑnɡ yǒu yí ɡè hěn shū fu de kā fēi tīnɡ)
Close by there’s a very comfortable coffee shop
陪我去喝一杯咖啡吧！(péi wǒ qù hē yì bēi kā fēi bɑ！)
Accompany me for a cup of coffee!
If she says:
我现在没时间 (wǒ xiàn zài méi shí jiān)
Now I have no time
Then simply hand her your phone and say:
好吧没事，把你的电话号码给我吧 (hǎo bɑ, méi shì，bǎ nǐ de diàn huà hào mǎ ɡěi wǒ bɑ)
OK, no problem, give me your number
下次我们可以一起出去玩 (xià cì wǒ men ké yǐ yì qǐ chū qu wán)
Next time we can go out together
Unfortunately, approaching a girl for the very first time is always a nerve-wracking experience. I know skydivers who will happily jump out of planes at 30,000 feet, but who instantly turn into jelly if they have to go up and introduce themselves to an attractive girl. Sometimes it helps to have an excuse.
You can always ask for the time:
现在几点了？ (xiàn zài jī diǎn le ？)
What time is it now?
Or maybe pretend that you’re lost:
能问个路吗? (néng wèn ge lù ma？)
Can I ask directions?
If you happen to have some Chinese reading material with you, it’s always easy to ask her:
这个字怎么读？(zhè gè zì zěn me dú ？)
How do I read this character?
The problem is that most girls have a very well-developed sixth sense, and will immediately be able to see through your ploy. Luckily for you, the actual words that you say are nowhere near as important as the attitude that you project when you initially approach. Many women will tell you that confidence is what they find most attractive in a man, more so than his good looks or his spontaneous wit—and luckily, this confidence knows no language barriers.
My personal favorite opener is to ask about her smartphone, as nearly all Chinese girls are complete 手机控 (shǒu jī kònɡ – phone addicts) these days.
是不是苹果手机？(shì bù shì píng guǒ shǒu jī ？)
Is that an Apple phone?
Usually, she’ll be really proud of her overpriced iPhone, and so I’ll immediately tease her with:
你不支持国产吗？(nǐ bù zhī chí guó chǎn má ？)
You don’t support Chinese products?
我会告诉习近平，他会过来骂你的 (wǒ huì gào sù xí jìn píng， tā huì guò lái mà nǐ de)
I am going to tell Xi Jingping, he will come and scold you.
A little gentle teasing like this always makes them smile. Just one cautionary note on the Xi Jingping joke—it’s hit or miss, as it’s quite political and not all Chinese girls will appreciate hearing this come from a complete stranger.
Finally, if you want to avoid the infamous Chinese gold diggers and passport hunters, I’d suggest asking:
要不要一起去骑自行车？(yào bù yào yī qǐ qù qí zì xíng chē ？)
Would you like to go for a romantic bike ride together?
This refers to a notorious episode of the Chinese dating game show, “非诚勿扰” (fēi chénɡ wù rǎo – “If You Are The One”) which aired on Zhejiang TV back in 2010. Ma Nuo, the money-worshiping, material girl who was asked this question, replied:
(níng yuàn zài bǎo mǎ chē lǐ kū ， yě bù yuàn zài zì xíng chē shàng xiào.)
I would rather cry in a BMW than smile on a bicycle.
If you get this answer, then my advice is to say goodbye and run as fast as you can in the opposite direction.
Or maybe she’s just teasing you by recognizing the reference—you can always stick around and chat a little more to see what she’s really thinking.
Then, let the fun begin!
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