What did the Chicken say to the Duck? (鸡同鸭讲 – Jī tóng yā Jiǎng)1 min readReading Time: < 1 minute
Answer: not much!
One of the most useful phrases to help get out of any sticky situation in China is the idiom: we are simply like a ‘chicken and a duck talking’ (鸡同鸭讲 – jī tóng yā jiǎng).
This idiom is a colloquialism borrowed from Cantonese.
Chicken and duck conversations a common – even between Chinese poeople talking the same language! They can come up in a meeting, a negotiation, a dinner, even chatting with a stranger on a train (which is where I first learned this idiom).
Chicken and duck talks fall into three categories:
1. Literally speaking two different languages. This is not uncommon even for Chinese in China. The Chinese language is divided into five main language groups (of which Mandarin, or pǔ tōng huà, is the main one), which then have around 200 separate dialects. In some remote regions in China, a different language will be spoken from one valley or village to the next – chickens and ducks literally next door to each other.
2. Coming from two completely different places. Same language, totally different outlook. This kind of chicken and duck conversation can be frustrating for at least one side of it because, on the surface at least, the language seems to make sense, but the words might as well be a different language.
3. A conversation-closer because you disagree, or can’t be bothered. Always a useful tool if you’ve had enough of a conversation! I used it just the other day in fact to great effect.
Farm animals come up a lot in Chinese idioms. And they’re normally useful in every-day settings.
Another common phrase deployed in a similar way uses the humble cow: 对牛弹琴 (duì niú tán qín) – ‘playing a lute to a cow’.