The World of Chinese - - Contents - BY SUN JIAHUI (孙佳慧)

Pic­ture the scene: You’re hav­ing a pleas­ant con­ver­sa­tion when some­one else joins in, and says some­thing awk­ward, in­ap­pro­pri­ate, or ut­terly ir­rel­e­vant. An awk­ward si­lence fol­lows—some­one has to res­ur­rect the con­ver­sa­tion, even though ev­ery­one knows that things are now weird, but they’re still talk­ing and oh god why won’t it stop?

In China, these mo­ments are known as 尬聊( g3li1o), lit­er­ally “em­bar­rass­ing chat”, with 尬 ( g3) from 尴尬 ( g`ng3, em­bar­rass­ment) and 聊 ( li1o) mean­ing “chat.” One fa­mous of­fender is Chen Luyu, one of sev­eral TV hosts dubbed by some as “China’s Oprah” due to her pop­u­lar talk show A Date With Luyu, but who might as well be China’s Alan Par­tridge for all her reg­u­lar galiao mo­ments. Once, when her guest Zhang Chaoyang, CEO of Sohu, de­scribed be­ing “on a plane, watch­ing the moon in the night sky, full of emo­tions…” Chen in­ter­rupted to ask, “How could you see the moon in the plane?” “Be­cause the plane has win­dows,” Zhang po­litely ex­plained, af­ter a mean­ing­ful if brief pause. View­ers re­marked “主持人又在尬聊了。”( Zh^ch!r9n y7u z3i g3li1o le. The host is em­bar­rass­ingly chat­ting again.)

“Em­bar­rass­ing talk” doesn’t have to be one-sided: It can re­fer to any con­ver­sa­tion that takes place in an ex­cru­ci­at­ing at­mos­phere. This might be a bad date (“我们完全就是在尬聊。W6­men w1n­qu1n ji&sh# z3i g3 li1o. We were to­tally em­bar­rass­ingly chat­ting.”) or an un­suc­cess­ful ne­go­ti­a­tion. (“什么也没谈成,就是在尬聊。Sh9nme y0 m9i t1n ch9ng, ji&sh# z3i g3li1o. Noth­ing was set­tled, just an em­bar­rass­ing chat.”)

And of course, em­bar­rass­ment doesn’t only ex­ist in con­ver­sa­tion. In daily life, a 尬-pre­fixed verb can de­scribe any kind of blun­der. Ter­ri­ble act­ing in a movie could be 尬演( g3y2n, em­bar­rass­ing act­ing), im­ply­ing that an ac­tor’s per­for­mance is so poor, view­ers feel un­com­fort­able watch­ing it. A flat­ter­ing re­view of said film would ac­cord­ingly be 尬评 ( g3p!ng, em­bar­rass­ing re­view), some­thing so bla­tantly false it’s shame­ful to read. Note that bad danc­ing may be called尬舞 ( g3w^, em­bar­rass­ing dance), but the term 尬舞 can also re­fer a “break­danc­ing bat­tle,” which has noth­ing to do with a chore­o­graphic gaffe and ac­tu­ally pre­dates the use of 尬 for em­bar­rass­ments all and sundry.

With the term so com­monly used, some peo­ple have be­gun to re­flect on the fact that they feel em­bar­rassed so fre­quently, it’s al­most a dis­ease—尴尬症 ( g`ng3zh-ng, em­bar­rass­ment syn­drome), or, more se­ri­ously, 尴尬癌 ( g`ng3’1i, em­bar­rass­ment can­cer). For in­stance, 听着他们尬聊,我尴尬癌都要犯了。( T~ngzhe t`men g3li1o, w6 g`ng3’1i d4u y3o f3n le. Lis­ten­ing to their em­bar­rass­ing talk, my chronic em­bar­rass­ment can­cer strikes again.)

But un­like real can­cer, there are straight­for­ward cures to em­bar­rass­ment, such as think­ing be­fore you speak, or just find­ing a new cir­cle of friends.


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