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What You Don't Talk About

2006-07-23 16:02

  One of the recurring1 questions that my students in China often ask is: " What are the things they shouldn't talk about with Americans?" Taboo2 topics tend to make people feel uneasy3. Every culture has these off-limits4 subjects. In ours, the following immediately come to mind:

  1. Age Yes, age is a very sensitive subject to many Americans, especially to women over age 30. In this youth obsessed5 culture, the thought of growing older is a painful one and most of us, if possible, would like to have nothing to do with it. Unfortunately aging is one of the inevitabilities of life and it happens to the best of us. As a result, many Americans work hard to maintain a youthful appearance or at least give the illusion of youth. So the last thing they want is for someone to rub6 their faces in harsh7 reality and ask the unthinkable, " How old are you exactly?"

  This question may result in replies like:" How old do you think I am?" " 30ish, 30 something. I'm in my thirties. Let's just leave it at that8." " I can't remember." " Oh, don't ask me that." " I stopped keeping track9 after I turned 30." " A lot older than what I would like to be."

  Anyhow, if you are dying to know someone's age, this is how you could go about finding out. First you estimate their age by their appearance and mannerism10.Then you subtract11 ten years from that estimation. I guarantee you will get a big smile from that person who will also blush and say, " Wow. You are my best friend. I'm 38 already. Can you believe it?" You, of course, reply, " No. I really can't. You're kidding. You don't look a day over 28.This is amazing." Now that's one surefire12 way to boost someone's ego!

  2. Weight This is one of the touchiest subjects. In America, it is okay, even desirable, to be thin but it is a sin and a huge embarrassment to be overweight. In fact, the thinner you are, the prettier you are considered. Flip through any American fashion magazines, you'll notice that most models are nothing more than skin and bones.A woman who sports this emaciated13,skeletal14 physique is called a waif 15,which is a thin person who appears fragile16 and needy. Believe it not,the waif look was the hottest look of the 1990's. Of course,there are obvious health related advantages to having a slender figure but please don't over diet for the sake of vanity.You could potentially become a victim to horrible eating disorders like anorexia17 and bulimia18.

  Americans are very weight-conscious and rarely disclose how much they weigh……even if they are thin and in great shape19. Therefore, you best not to ask. But if you absolutely have to comment on this subject, it's always safer to say, " Oh, you look like you have lost weight" than " Oh, you look like you put on a few pounds." However, if you would like to be honest but not hurtful, I recommend you choose your words carefully, perhaps by saying:" Hey, you look great. Very healthy looking." And always remember, it's not fat. It's muscular.

  3. Income You should never ever ask how much someone's salary is. There's no way around this one. However, it's perfectly appropriate to ask about their job title and what they do for a living. This information should give you some idea how much they make a year.

  4. Matters of the Heart This is a tricky one. Sometimes you'll run into people who can't wait to pour their hearts out to you. Then there are those who make sure their personal business stays behind closed doors20. The general rule is to not get too personal, too fast. You don't want others to think that you're prying into21 their lives. Therefore, try not to ask too many questions about someone's love life, marriage and family until you have a friendship with this person. Even then, you better wait for your friend to come to you with the matters of their heart.

  5. Is It Real? Many Americans are proponents22 of the all-natural look. Stick with what Mother Nature gave you and do the best you can with it. But how many truly abide by23 this principle? With plastic surgery24 and products like colored contact lens25, hair coloring, acrylic26 nails, etc, the answer would be: not many. I suppose some of us either like to experiment with our looks or are simply unhappy with what we're born with.

  As artificial as the results of these physical alterations may be, they are done to imitate nature. At the end of the day, people want others to believe they're simply born beautiful. So don't ruin it for them by asking, " Hey, I love your eye color. Is it real?"

  What makes certain topics taboo? These topics may lead to disclosure27 of information that people don't want others to know about. In other words, sometimes it's not so much that you asked the wrong question, but that you touched a sore spot28. Regardless, it's difficult to always avoid conversation landmines so be sensible, watch your step29 and try not to open a can of worms30.













  1.recur vi.反复出现,复发

  2.taboo adj.忌讳的

  3.uneasy adj.尴尬的,窘迫的

  4.off-limits adj.[美]禁止使用的

  5.obsess vt.迷住,使着迷

  6.rub vt.触怒,惹恼

  7.harsh adj.无情的,严酷的



  10.mannerism n.举止,(说话的)姿势

  11.subtract vt.减去

  12.surefire adj.[美口]一定能成功的

  13.emaciated adj.消瘦的,憔悴的

  14.skeletal adj.骨瘦如柴的

  15.waif n.细挑个儿

  16.fragile adj.纤弱的

  17.anorexia n.[医]厌食

  18.bulimia n.[医]食欲过盛,易饥症




  22.proponent n.支持者,辩护者




  26.acrylic n.丙烯酸

  27.disclosure n.泄露,透露

  28.sore spot痛处,创伤,疮疤



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