Here’s a little tip for men in China hoping to avoid public castigation: don’t wear a green hat. Unfortunately this advice came a little late for me, but first a little background as to why it’s a cultural faux pas over here:
In China “wearing a green hat” (戴绿帽子 or dài lǜ mào zǐ) is an expression that Chinese use when a woman cheats on her husband or boyfriend because the phrase sounds similar to the word for cuckold. This apparently dates back to the Yuan dynasty when the relatives of prostitutes were forced to wear green hats.
If you’re given a green hat by your significant other then the news is probably not good. To wear one is to be a bit of a dim idiot! In addition giving someone shoes or a watch is also a no-no as it signifies that your relationship is coming to an end.
These are just a few examples of how language and symbolism are closely intertwined in China. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told to watch my pronunciation because a certain word sounds like the meaning of something else undesirable. I’d be interested to see if anyone has a list of the most common ones. Would certainly come in handy for hapless travellers and expats alike 🙂