I encountered a misunderstanding today due to my poor Chinese language skill. What could I have done better?

I was standing in a German hospital and a native Chinese asked me if I wanted tea or coffee - both being offered by a third party, namely the hospital nurse, coming with a tray. I opted for coffee. She expressed the assumption that I didn't like drinking tea, so I felt forced to clarify what politeness would otherwise have kept me from saying. Tea (mostly Chinese tea) is very important for my family and I delight in its preparation. I wanted to make clear that I can drink mediocre coffee but not mediocre tea. I used Chinese, to avoid the hospital people understanding the criticism of the tea. I said


But she understood the exact opposite of what I meant. Only after saying:


did I manage to convey my message. What were my mistakes?

  • 2
    "我不喝這種茶。對我來說茶不只是一個飲品, 而且是 一個生活方式。" and "我習慣了喝不怎麼樣的咖啡, 不能習慣喝不怎麼樣的茶。" sound more logical and grammatical—though, I don't quite understand the meanings of "so I was forced to clarify what politeness would otherwise have kept me from saying" and "only after saying". Anyway your expressions are understandable, but there may be a problem (just a reminder, maybe not your case): when being a guest, in Chinese culture, one would better avoid criticizing what the host prepares for them—because it's not so polite.
    – Stan
    Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 11:43
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    I don't get why you were forced to do anything. Just say you want coffee and leave it at that? Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 14:33
  • 1
    @Stan is the second point clear with the current punctuation?
    – Ludi
    Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 14:54
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    I second to @Stan and I would further clarify that in Chinese culture, if you want to be polite, either take the tea as a gesture for both gratitude for the person and likeness for tea in general, or just take coffee and don't say anything. The conscious decision to not clarify is considered a good thing.
    – NS.X.
    Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 23:52
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    @NS.X. thank you. I, too, was raised like this, but I was not aware that it extended to the case of talking about offerings by a third person. Thank you.
    – Ludi
    Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 5:37

1 Answer 1


I think your Chinese counterpart got confused because you mentioned the importance of drinking tea as part of your lifestyle, yet refusing the tea she offered. Your subsequent clarification on your preference to drink mediocre coffee rather than mediocre tea helps clear the air.

You could have expressed it unambiguously in this manner:

I am more particular with my tea; coffee will do.

To further elaborate, then you say:


  • 2
    The first sentence (讲究) is a wonderful spin of what OP wanted to say!
    – NS.X.
    Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 23:44

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