If a Chinese friend asks about your knowledge of China and its plethora of customs and characteristics, your answer will reveal the depth of your understanding.
If you say, "I know China very well and really know how you Chinese tick", you have just revealed how little you really know. But if your response is, "I know only a little", you have answered wisely.
You may actually know a hell of a lot about China, but don't say so out loud. And here's the rub (or the Chinese burn as the case may be). When you say, "I don't know" even if you do, your Chinese inquisitor will actually insist you do know a lot and the praise game begins.
Don't succumb to the temptation of basking in this praise. It's a trap because a second wave of honey-coated compliments are coming.
"Aiya! Don't be so modest. Your Chinese is fantastic. I've never heard a foreigner say 'ni hao' as good as you. You are such a smart guy, and you are probably a god," he says, somewhat over reaching.
Time for a counter attack. "No, no, no. I know nothing. I am but a lost sheep roaming the hillside and if I have simple grass to eat, I will be happy. But thanks to your kindness, patience and never-ending wisdom I know more about China," I say with a smile.
"Your humility knows no bounds and you truly are a role model," my Chinese friend will say smiling even more than me. "I listen to your words and learn so much."
To end this never-ending conversation,change the subject and admit you do know something very important.
"Listen to these words," I say. "It's time to eat and I know a really good noodle place."
Food talk in China always conquers everything.
(China Daily August 3, 2009)