Being Pissed Off and Being Polite with One Word

word of the week: fán

One thing I don’t like in China is the number of sales people. I once tried asking for the price of lessons at a language school and was passed on to a ‘course consultant’ who just talked and talked at me about the school, trying to convince me to sign up before letting me know the cost. She was very fán.

I had a similar experience at the gym, I asked how much it cost for a year and an incredibly fán personal trainer insisted on showing me around the gym for about half an hour and then sat down to chat about my previous sports experience and my training goals. I told him I just wanted to know how much it cost, after which I was informed that he needed to pass me onto a different sales rep whose job was to tell people the price. The whole experience was completely fán.

The last straw was when I was in Carrefour the other week (the French supermarket chain is quite big in China.) I was on the washing powder aisle, I picked up some washing power and as soon as it hit the bottom of my trolley there was a middle aged woman chasing after me trying to convince me to buy a completely different brand. I couldn’t believe it, there is even a sales rep pushing a 50RMB laundry detergent in the supermarket.

At this point I’d had enough and shouted out fán , which is a generic phrase used to express annoyance. The key word here is fán, which can be an adjective or a verb and means ‘annoying’ or ‘annoy’.

他很烦 tā hěn fán (he is annoying)

别烦我 bié fán (don’t annoy me/ stop annoying me)


crowds of old people at the checkout can be a bit fán

This word is useful because it can be used for both people and inanimate objects. It often has connotations of things being annoying because they are complicated.

在中国办签证的流程很烦 zài zhōng guó bàn qiān zhèng de liú chéng hěn fán (in China the process for getting a visa is annoying/complicated)

It is similar to 麻烦 má fan, but with the word má fan the emphasis is the other way around. Whereas fán means ‘annoying’ with connotations of ‘complicated’ má fan is more like ‘complicated and difficult’ with connotations of ‘annoying and frustrating’.

zài zhōng guó bàn qiān zhèng de liú chéng hěn má fan (In China the process for getting a visa is difficult and frustrating)

Although fán can be used to describe people, generally speaking má fan is only used to describe a process or an inanimate object. Another difference is that fán expresses your own personal feelings of annoyance, whereas má fan is an objective statement.

So if somebody is pissing you off you can angrily say nǐ hěn fán! (you’re really annoying!) but if you think studying Chinese characters is, objectively speaking, complicated and frustrating, you can say xué hàn zì hěn má fan.


once the novelty wears off it’s actually quite má fan

Another interesting use of má fan is to apologise for inconveniencing someone. If somebody or something gives you má fan it means that person or thing has inconvenienced or caused you trouble in some way.

他给我添麻烦tā gěi wǒ tiān má fan (he give me add má fan/ he has caused me a lot of trouble)

新的课程安排给我添麻烦 xīn de kè chéng àn pái gěi wǒ tiān má fan (new class schedule give me add ma fan/ the new class schedule has inconvenienced me)

Following on from this you can use the phrase má fan nǐ as a way to say “sorry I have inconvenienced you”. It’s very commonly heard in China. For example, if someone goes out of their way to help you with your luggage on the train you can of course say xiè xie (thank you) but you can make it sound that bit more polite and humble by saying xiè xie, má fan nǐ le (Thank you, I have inconvenienced you).

Similarly, it can be used as a way of requesting help. In this situation it might be best translated as “excuse me” but is more like saying “sorry to trouble you…”

麻烦你,能不能帮我一个忙 má fan nǐ, néng bù néng bāng máng (excuse me/ sorry to trouble you, can you help me?)

For further explanation and more uses of the sentence structre fán wǒ used at the begining of this post click here