When You’re Lost For Words

Word of the week: fān bái yǎn

If you’ve spent any extended period of time in China you might already be used to hearing the same questions over and over again. Like many western expats in China, I at first enjoyed the attention, but it wasn’t long before I got bored of hearing “where are you from?”, “can you speak Chinese?” and “oh your Chinese is very good!” (after saying nothing more than nǐ hǎo).

So what do I do? I simply fān bái yǎn翻白眼 whenever I hear such a question. fān means to turn or flip over and bái yǎn is the whites of your eyes.

měi cì tīng dào zhè yàng de wèn tí wǒ jiù fān bái yǎn 每次听到这样的问题我就翻白眼 (every time I hear this kind of question I roll my eyes)


fān bǎi yǎn

The body language here isn’t too different to what you have in an English-speaking country. You might fān bái yǎn if you hear a really bad joke. If your boss calls you to his office and you know it’s going to be another boring or pointless meeting you might also fān bái yǎn. If you’re relating an anecdote and you and what to specify who it was that caused you to fān bái yǎn you can put it after the verb fān.

wǒ fān lǎo bǎn bái yǎn (I rolled my eyes at my boss)

Alternatively you can drop the word fān and use bái as a verb. So if you tell a bad joke and your friend rolls her eyes at it you can say tā bái le wǒ yī yǎn 她白了我一眼 (she white me one eye/ she rolled her eyes at me)