Is It Offensive to ask a Chinese about his/her age?

(Last Modified: 2019-07-02 22:49:51    Author: jinyu)

In western world, it is not proper to ask somebody about his or her age. Inquiring directly about someone's age often causes discomfort. While in China, Asking people how old they are may have different results, depending on gender, age, and manner of questioning.

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Generally speaking, Chinese are not so sensitive to their ages. In fact, some of us enjoy talking about ages publicly. However, if a young Chinese girl is asked by how old she is, or if an elderly comes across such questions too straight, the talk might have been in ruin at once.

Therefore, knowing some manners concerning asking about age is essential for Chinese beginners. Here we have introduced some common situations, useful skills as well as related expressions about it.

Situations

1. The elderly. Normally, using words like "你多大了 (nǐ duō dà le)" [How old are you] to a senior citizen is deemed to be outrageous, as neither honorific title nor euphemism is duly applied for the need of respect. In Chinese culture, there are 2 different things about elder people:

  • The senior citizens are always respected. Different from social ideas in western countries ("every adult is equal"), this is a good tradition and virtue among Chinese from ancient times. Families and individuals were educated to offer help to those elderly.
  • Aging is regarded as a success. It is a common convention that a good feast is celebrated for birthday of the aged, in order to wish for a long life. Honorable titles are given to the Chinese elderly during different ages, such as "古稀之年 (gǔ xī zhī nián)" (on one's seventies).
the elderly

Therefore, with honorific titles, people can ask the elderly about their ages in these 2 ways:

请问您贵庚?

(qǐng wèn nín guì gēng)

请问您高寿?

(qǐng wèn nín gāo shòu)

The expression 请问 ("qǐng wèn") is a polite greetings meaning "please let me ask" literally, and the word " (nín)" means "you" but in a modest tone. "贵庚 (guì gēng)" and "高寿 (gāo shòu)" are proper expressions of ages.

2. Women. Women, especially those young, are sensitive to the topic of ages, as one of their common desires is to stay young. For this reason, girls are not willing to reveal their ages readily. However, there are still some tricks for those who want to scrape the bottom of the barrel:

  • Start from school. If she is your colleague or if she is employed, asking her about years she has been graduated is a good idea. Chinese university graduates are normally 22-24, so it's easy to calculate a girl's age when she replied you such questions.
  • Start from family. If she has siblings, situations of her family members can help to judge the age. Questions like "is your elder brother married?" or "what grade is your younger brother in?" which related to their ages are generally adoptable. Sometimes the answers are not that helpful as the age gap between she herself and her brothers are not fixed, but they can lay a good foundation for the following talk of the age difference.
  • Start from job. Analyzing how a girl describes her working content or job titles might be a good reference on her age. Normally, if the content has been illustrated comprehensively or thoroughly, it is proved that the speaker possesses years of working experience.
girl

Here are the above mentioned practical sentences:

你毕业多久了?
("nǐ bì yè duō jiǔ le")

[How long have you graduated?]

你的哥哥/姐姐结婚了吗?
("nǐ de gē ge / jiě jie jié hūn le ma")

[Is you elder brothe/sister married?]

你的弟弟/妹妹读几年级?
("nǐ de dì di / mèi mei dú jǐ nián jí")

[What grade is your younger brother/sister in?]

你的工作职责是什么?
("nǐ de gōng zuò zhí zé shì shén me")

[What are your job responsibilities?]

你在这一行做了多久了?
("nǐ zài zhè yī háng zuò le duō jiǔ le")

[How long have you been working in this field?]

3. Peers or the younger. Just ask Chinese guys at your age or younger than you about his age freely. No honorific titles are needed, and most of them will be glad to answer your question. Such expressions are:

你多大了?
("nǐ duō dà le")

[How old are you?]

你哪一年的?
("nǐ nǎ yī nián de")

[Which year were you born?]

你多少岁了?
("nǐ duō shǎo suì le")

[How old are you?]

More skills

Chinese are tactful when dealing with touchy topics. There are more roundabout ways to ask one about his/her age. Different skills are used in the following dialogs:

More skills for asking about age
Chinese English Translation
老人家,您看起来气色很好。您今年贵庚?
("lǎo rén jiā, nín kàn qǐ lái qì sè hěn hǎo. nín jīn nián guì gēng")
Sir (elderly), you look good. How old are you?
你属什么的?
("nǐ shǔ shén me de")
What is your animal sign?
十年前你在做什么?
("shí nián qián nǐ zài zuò shén me")
What were you doing 10 years ago?
你看起来很年轻,应该比我小吧?
("nǐ kàn qǐ lái hěn nián qīng, yīng gāi bǐ wǒ xiǎo ba")
You look so young, am I elder than you?
你来这座城市有多久了?
("nǐ lái zhè zuò chéng shì yǒu duō jiǔ le")
How long have you been in this city?

More expressions or related idoms

  • 年逾古稀 ("nián yù gǔ xī")
    Definition: over seventy years old.
  • 三十而立 ("sān shí ér lì")
    Definition: a man should be independent at the age of thirty.
  • 花甲之年 ("huā jiǎ zhī nián")
    Definition: sixty years of age.
  • 耄耋之年 ("mào dié zhī nián")
    Definition: ninty years of age.
  • 长生不老 ("cháng shēng bù lǎo")
    Definition: to be ever young or be immortal.
  • 老态龙钟 ("lǎo tài lóng zhōng")
    Definition: look old and clumsy.
  • 年轻力壮 ("nián qīng lì zhuàng")
    Definition: to young and strong.
  • 黄发垂髫 ("huáng fà chuí tiáo")
    Definition: the aged and the young.
  • 延年益寿 ("yan nián yi shou")
    Definition: to prolong life.
  • 徐娘半老 ("xu niáng ban lao")
    Definition: middle aged women with little charm remaining.
  • 须发皆白 ("xu fa jie bai")
    Definition: The hair and beard become all white.
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