相亲 拷1 - Matchmaker Jargon Cover
Illustration by: Wang Siqi
SOCIAL CHINESE

Learn the Deceptive Language of China’s Matchmakers

How to decipher the exaggerations and deceptions of matchmaking professionals

The Lunar New Year should be a joyous time of reunion with parents and other loved ones. But as any young person will know, it can also be filled up with fielding nosy questions from annoying relatives.

What starts as a simple inquiry into your relationship status over dinner may escalate into a full-blown rant about the downsides of staying single. “I’m good on my own right now. I don’t need a partner!” you want to yell, but your family disagrees—and may have already arranged for you to meet people in the age-old tradition of 相亲 (xiāngqīn), or blind dates, to find a marriage candidate (often set up through professional matchmakers).

Get roped into it and you’ll find the world of xiangqin can be a strange place filled with lonely souls desperate for love. What’s more, much like a job interview, xiangqin dating is rife with jargon and dishonesty. There’s so much hyperbole that the art of xiangqin speech has its own name: 相亲黑话 (xiāngqīn hēihuà).

This deception begins with appearance. When you ask to see the other person’s portrait but the matchmaker tells you, “A photo is not available. Just meet them in person and you’ll see (没有照片,见一面就知道了méiyǒu zhàopian, jiàn yímiàn jiù zhīdàole),” you should press for more details. The matchmaker may try to reassure you, describing the potential match like this:

This guy is just a tad under 180cm tall. He has well-proportioned facial features and a prosperous appearance.

Xiǎohuǒzi yībālíng chà yīdiǎn, wǔguān duānzhèng, zhǎng de yě yǒu fúqì.

小伙子一八零差一点,五官端正,长得也有福气。

You will likely soon discover that “prosperous appearance” is a euphemism for being on the heavier side, and the person probably isn’t anywhere close to the promised height. Meanwhile, anyone described as “well-educated and courteous (有文化,很斯文 yǒu wénhuà hěn sīwén),” probably just wears glasses.

There are reasons why matchmakers tend to overpromise and underdeliver. Parents are eager for their offspring to settle down, and matchmakers profit most from successful matches, so they embellish the truth to make a candidate more appealing. As the only party with potential losses, you should remain careful and alert at all times. After all, the same rule applies to matchmaking as to any other business: “buyer beware.”

Matchmakers are masters of the paradoxical arts of trivialization and exaggeration:

They may be a few years older than you, but they’re stable and reliable, and they’ll treat you well!

Suīrán bǐ nǐ dàle jǐ suì, dàn chéngshú wěnzhòng, huì téngrén a!

虽然比你大了几岁,但成熟稳重,会疼人啊!

This person may turn out to be a bachelor old enough to be your parent.

In addition to appearance or personality, the system of obscure language can be applied to career and family background as well. For example, your uncle might introduce you to his colleague’s son, claiming:

He is a nice guy from a traditional family, and very filial to his parents. He’s studying hard for the civil service exam.

Tā rén hěn hǎo, jiālǐ bǐjiào chuántǒng, duì bàmā yě tèbié xiàoshùn, zhèngzài bèikǎo gōngwùyuán.

他人很好,家里比较传统,对爸妈也特别孝顺,正在备考公务员。

However, upon closer inspection, this person may not be so ideal. Being a “nice guy” may equate to not much fun. And if you end up with a “filial son,” you run the risk of being bossed around by your in-laws, while your obedient partner agrees with every word his parents say. The fishiest part concerns the test preparation—which means he’s probably unemployed.

Another trick to finding the truth lies in understanding what is left unsaid. For instance, if the matchmaker describes someone like this:

They have a secure iron rice bowl job. They’re ambitious and full of potential, although they can be a little straightforward sometimes.

Gōngzuò wěndìng tiěfànwǎn yǒu shàngjìnxīn, shì ge qiánlìgǔ, jiùshì yǒudiǎn xīnzhíkǒukuài.

工作稳定铁饭碗,有上进心,是个潜力股,就是有点心直口快。

Note that the person has a job, but the salary isn’t mentioned. Their “ambition” may mean endless meetings and overtime, leaving little time for romance. Having a lot of potential, probably means their current situation is less than ideal. They may not have a car or a home, which many Chinese consider a prerequisite for men to have before marriage.

Candidates themselves are not entirely candid about their intentions, either. They may utilize flattering words to describe themselves or soften their excessive requirements. If someone says:

I’m starting my own business, and looking for a down-to-earth, family-oriented woman who can share the joy and sorrow of life with me.

Wǒ zhèngzài chuàngyè, xīwàng zhǎo ge xiánhuì huì gùjiā, huì guòrìzi de nǚhái, nénggòu yǔ wǒ tónggān gòngkǔ.

我正在创业,希望找个贤惠顾家,会过日子的人,能够与我同甘共苦。

Their true intention may be to find a partner who “shares” his woe by doing housework and taking care of the family besides working a full-time job. Since the person explicitly mentions a “down-to-earth” life, expect some financial austerity. As for the joy, who knows when it will come.

Eventually, after rounds of blind dates, you might meet a friend of a friend who seems the perfect match—financially secure, reliable, and good-looking. Your friend even vouches for the person’s thoughtfulness, claiming they are “very considerate and know how to look after people (很体贴,会照顾人 hěn tǐtiē, huì zhàogù rén ).” But before you get your hopes up, make sure they’re actually looking to date and not just another happy single forced into xiangqin by their parents.

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