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When Being Strict Is Good Posted by on Apr 30, 2010 in Culture, Vocabulary

If someone in China asks you 老师严不严? (lao3shi1 yan2bu4yan2 – is the teacher strict?), what kind of answer answer is the “good” or “better” answer?  If you answer that the teacher is not strict, you might think you’re emphasizing that the teacher is very down to earth and doesn’t use authority to assert control.  In China, it’s better to indicate that the teacher is strict, as he/she will likely have more control over the class and will have clearer standards for the students to meet.  By answering that the teacher is not strict, you may also imply that parts of the course are not rigorous, even if that was not your intent.

If someone asks you if you 乖不乖 (guai1bu4guai1 – are obedient or not), it may seem like a tricky question to answer.  Being “obedient” to the native English speaker may connote being a teacher’s pet or never challenging authority.  With quotes such as, “[paraphrased] don’t let schooling get in the way of your education” embedded in the public consciousness, it sounds counterintuitive to be obedient and a good student.  However, here the connotation is that you paid attention in class and submitted work when it was due.  Here the better answer is to say you were obedient.

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