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My Chinese text book says this about using 什么的 ("and so on"):

photo from Chinese text book

I transcribe and translate this below (ignoring the first line; it's an example of using 什么的 continuing from the previous page):

注意:”什么的“只能用于,不能用于人。例如,不能说:“我们韩国人美国人日本人什么的。”
Attention: "什么的" can only be used with things, not with people. For example, we cannot say "our class has Korean people, American people, Japanese people, and so on."
Zhùyì: ”Shénme de“ zhǐnéng yòng yú wù, bùnéng yòng yú rén. Lìrú, bùnéng shuō: “Wǒmen bān yǒu Hánguórén, Měiguórén, Rìběnrén shénme de.”

Question: Why can't we use 什么的 with lists of people, and what can we use instead?

The book doesn't discuss why we can't say this, only that we can't. I guess it's because it's impolite to say this, but I'm just guessing.

I also don't know what we can use as an alternative (e.g. 等等 instead of 什么的), since whatever reason we should not use 什么的 might also apply to the alternative.

  • It's because 什么的 refers to 'things'. It's not good to mess up people with things. – dan Nov 21 '17 at 8:56
  • reminder of use of 什么 w/o 的 while referring to people:cf. "实用现代汉语语法""什么"作定语时,也可以修饰指人的名词,如 "什么人"、"什么大夫"、"什么工程师" ,代姓名、职业等。 "什么人"和"谁"表达的意思基本一样,都是问人的姓名、职业、身份,如"他是谁?""他是什么人?"但"什么人"不够客气礼貌。"他是你什么人?"是问"他"与"你"的关系,这时不能说"他是你的谁?"。 – user6065 Nov 21 '17 at 14:31
  • example of 什么的 "and what not,and others" after 男友 in 电视剧惊情48小时:第6集 v.youku.com/v_show/… see 05:25:我听说她有那个绯闻男友什么的 spoken by high ranking detective 04:23:我就是想听听你对她的看法 04:28:从她七年前到宏美来的那一天起 04:31:我就看出来了 她会成功 04:34:她会走到事业的顶端 04:36:怎么肯定 04:39:想吃这碗饭的人我见多了 04:41:不瞒你说 04:43:大多是为了名利 04:45:理解 04:46:古来如此 04:47:可白冰冰不一样 04:48:她好像还有别人不具备的东西 04:53:这是我们需要的 04:55:她可以为了达到一个目的 04:57:不惜去付出一切 04:59:你能不能具体点儿 05:03:就像去年贺岁档的 05:04:和那个香港合拍片05:07:里面有几句广东话的台词 05:09:她请家教就学了两个月 05:13:有激情是好的 05:15:但激情需要控制 – user6065 Nov 23 '17 at 2:11
  • 05:19:白冰冰有男朋友吗 05:23:还没有 05:24:不对呀 05:25:我听说 她有那个绯闻男友什么的 05:28:就是那个潘晓东 05:31:都是媒体乱写 为了吸引眼球 – user6065 Nov 23 '17 at 18:38
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It can't be used for people because 什么的 means "things like"

写写信、打打球、洗洗衣服什么的 = "Things like writing letter, playing basketball, washing clothes"

Also;

To list specific individuals, we can use '等人'

Example: 陈博士,李教授,王法官等人 (Dr. Chen, Professor Li, Judge Wang and others like them)

~

To list different kinds of people or things, we can use '之類'

Example:

'医生,律师 和警察之類 ' (people like doctor, lawyer and police)

'足球,篮球 和网球之類' (things like football, basketball and tennis)

~

'and so on' = "等等"

Example:

'足球,篮球, 网球等等' (football, basketball, tennis and so on)

'医生,律师, 警察等等' (doctor, lawyer, police and so on)

~

To list different kinds of dishonorable people, we can use '之流'

Example: "小偷, 騙子和走私客之流" (the like of thief, con man and smuggler)

  • TIP: 等等 could be replaced with single character 等. – 賈可 Jacky Mar 12 at 4:40
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I guess it's because it's impolite to say this, but I'm just guessing.

What you guessed is right. More precisely, when 什么的 is used for listing it has negative connotations. Such as the sentence you showed,

课余时间写写信、打打球、洗洗衣服什么的。

During spare time (I only) write letters, play balls, wash clothes, etc.

[connotation] I don't have much time to do those interesting things.

That means, according to the context, if it matches your intent you can also use it with people.

As an alternative 等等 is fine, basically it's a neutral word, doesn't have any negative or positive connotations.

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