|Why do Chinese like "laughing"? Are they laughing at me?|
Cross Culture Communication Case Studies
The different feeling about "laughing"
Selma, who is from the US, is in a student exchange program in Indonesia. One day, she was asked to attend a birthday party and she was delighted, for she was curious to know what an Indonesian birthday party was like. To her surprise, she was the only one that dressed in typically Western clothes.
To make herself feel better, she went to the food table and began to help herself. But, upon leaving the table, she tripped on the leg of a chair and spilled her drink on the floor. One of the girls stooped down to mop up the spill and everyone else laughed out loud.
Selma, uncertain what to do next, quietly moved out of her way with her head lowered in shame.
Just like a smile, laughing does not always serve the same function in different cultures. Interestingly, for Chinese, laughing often has a special function on some tense social occasions.
People may laugh to release the tension or embarrassment, to express their concern about you, their intention to put you at ease or to help you come out of the embarrassment. In this case, the people there were actually wishing to laugh with Selma rather than laugh at her.
Their laughing seemed to convey a number of messages: don‘t take it so seriously; laugh it off, it‘s nothing; such things can happen to any of us, etc. Unfortunately, Selma was unaware of this. She thought they were laughing at her, which made her feel more badly and angry, for in
So, if you ever met situation when you tried to speak Chinese, but heard "laughing" from the listeners, don't think of it as "embarrassed" or "being laughed at". It's a response without any harms and most cases, it's a friendly way they want to encourage you to try again （of course, they are unaware of the culture difference). Forgive them and be confident and try again to say what you wanted to say!