Ask the Yangxifu: Showing a Chinese Man You’re Interested

Bok choy
A Western woman has a crush on a Chinese man at her grocery store. How can she show him, not tell him, that she's interested? (Photo by Ted Cabanes)

groceries asks:

So, I have this Chinese acquaintance.  He works at this Asian Supermarket that I frequent and I have a feeling he’s liking me too.  But when I try to make conversation with him, he like speeds through what he says like he’s trying to politely brush me off.  He makes me feel really intimidated.  I’m not a timid person, but I sort of felt like I was making a little progress, but then my best friend (who’s a guy) went to the store with me twice in a row and I feel like everything fell back to square one.  Which is horrible because it’s not like I got very far in the first place.  I kind of feel like I have no real change with him because, I am just a customer, but I want to at least try.  I feel like if I can make him realize I like him without making him feel awkward by confessing, then it may give him a little change to let me know either way, of how he feels toward me.  Any suggestions?


This might sound strange, but try this — ask him to help you. Really.

When John (who is now my Chinese husband) and I first started getting to know each other, do you know what I did to spend more time with him at work? I asked him to help me with some Chinese translations I had worked on. We would sit together at his computer, smiling and laughing our way through translating every phrase. And when he saw me going to him, instead of the other translators in the company, I’m sure he got my message loud and clear.

With another Chinese boyfriend I had before John, I asked him to help teach me Chinese idioms. It started as a casual once or twice a week thing. But before I knew it, he spent practically every day after work going through a new idiom in my book. When he looked into my eyes and taught me the phrase 白头偕老 ([báitóuxiélǎo], live together to a ripe old age), let’s just say there was a lot more going on than just language education.

When you approach a Chinese man for help with a problem, you’re helping to avoid that awkward conversation or small talk (it took John a few years to learn the art of small talk, so your crush isn’t the only one). After all, most Chinese show their love through actions, not words. So it’s a lot easier to show your affection by singling him out in the store for help. And if you do it often enough, he’ll get the message that you’re really interested in him — without any embarrassing “I love you” confession that might force you to shop elsewhere for, say, your favorite Sichuan chili sauce.

Think about some Asian-grocery-related problems you could use a hand with. Maybe he works in the produce department and could tell you some great recipes for cooking Chinese broccoli, and how to pronounce the name for Chinese broccoli in Chinese. Perhaps he stocks the sauce section and knows which black bean sauce works better with tofu. Or suppose he’s familiar with the herbal medicines they sell, and might be able to suggest something for your migranes. You get the idea. And trust me — he’ll know that if you’re asking for Chinese broccoli recipe, you really are happy to see him.

I would start out with small things. Don’t worry if you hit him with something he doesn’t know — that might be an opportunity to ask him about his own Asian grocery specialty, which could help you come up with the next “problem” to have him solve.

But in the end, I personally hope he’ll be able to solve your most pressing problem — a lonely heart. 😉

Good luck!

What advice do you have for groceries? What do you think?


Do you have a question about life, dating, marriage and family in China/Chinese culture (or Western culture)? Every Friday, I answer questions on my blog. Send me your question today.

28 Replies to “Ask the Yangxifu: Showing a Chinese Man You’re Interested”

  1. “When he looked into my eyes and taught me the phrase 白头偕老 ([báitóuxiélǎo], live together to a ripe old age), let’s just say there was a lot more going on than just language education.”

    Ooh la-la!

  2. I have doubts about this one. It’s only natural in a service profession to smile and chat with customers when they initiate conversation. I do that with my hair stylist, cashier, secretary, barista, etc. all the time and no one has any underlying intention of romantic interest.

    What’s worse is that you showed up with another guy, twice. In my mind, I’d instantly categorize you as “taken” and off limits regardless of your relation to him. It’s just a matter of playing the odds for me. Heck, for the longest time I wouldn’t even approach someone who had a ring on, regardless of the finger.

  3. I think Richard has a point. Bringing along a guy friend, and the same guy, not once but on both occasions, must have given the Chinese staff the impression that you are unavailable and that might explain his behaviour. Better go alone the next time and try out what Jocely has suggested. I think what Jocely has suggested may just work, at least it will give you the opening you want. SO,GO FOR IT and best wishes!

  4. I’m sorry. but usually I find all shop keepers Irish, Chinese etc are generally friendly when I go into there shops. I would find it very difficult to tell whether a shop assistant likes me any more than a regular costumer. But I think trying what Jocelyn suggested is worth a shot,

    Good luck

  5. I would suggest that you be a little bit more daring. Ask him if he is interesting in going out with you. Don’t get me wrong here. I m not telling you to lower yourself. Ask him out and be explicitly clear that you intent to further develop the relationship. If he is not into you after that, fine. Move on. Why waste your time, or for that matter his time. Besides, you have nothing to lose anyway. Anyway, after posting this comment, people might scold me for telling you to be TOO daring. Wa ha ha ha ! Fortune only rewards the brave ! And good luck !

  6. OMG…this reminds me of the times I used to have a crush on the tall handsome Chinese boy that worked in the local Asian grocery store! If I can give you a tip, it would be…drop your purse or handbag in front of him. Or ‘acccidentally’ drop one of the items (preferably NOT a glass jar!). See if he helps you pick it up, and then you can spark the conversation. It will be a little embarassing at first but you can laugh it off. I’ve tried this many times, and it’s a great ice breaker. Good luck!

  7. ~Up Date~

    First I want to thank everyone for their opinions and give a sort of back story. We’ve been going to this store for years now. He’s always been polite, but never chit chatty or anything like that. His sister, always super friendly and cute. What made me really notice him was when my mom and I were looking at the dvd’s they sell there and he came to let us know which section had subtitles. I said, “This one looks good, what do you think?” He was like a kid in a candy store and pointed out his favorite actor and which dvd’s were worth buying and all that. I was like, o_o So cute!

    Also, my best friend is gay but most straight guys think he’s straight. But because we’ve been friends for so long, I don’t have second thoughts about going places with him. But I will keep it in mind from now on. I remember when we were a lot younger, we’d go to this bar and me and no matter how busy the bar was, the bar tender would always spend a lot of time with me and pay special attention and w/e. Well I brought my friend one day and this girl started hitting on him, and he was like, “I’m sorry this is my girl friend.” The bar tender kept his distance after that. I was like, -_- really? (At my friend.)

    So now for the update. I went back to the store but I was with my brother. When we went to the register, the guy was being kind of cute (which is a rare thing for me to see because he always seemed the serious, quiet type) and super smiley to me. Well, my brother made me carry the heavy stuff, and without thinking, I said, “[insert friend’s name] carries it for me!” I was just trying to be obnoxious to my brother because I knew he didn’t care. We weren’t at the register when I said it but I had to turn back to say it as I was approaching the door and I saw that the guy was looking at me and when I finish my sentence, he kind of scowled and turned away.

    So I know, it’s totally my fault and I am probably dooming everything. But I will ask him for help with something and see how he reacts to me and go from there. Worst thing that can happen (unless I be bold), is that we remain our polite customer/store clerk relationship. Right?

    Oh and thanks to Richard about the ring thing. Recently I’ve lost weight and can fit a ring that I haven’t been able to fit for about 6 years and started wearing it again. I started wearing it about two weeks ago. I shall ditch my ring when I go in.

  8. Do Chinese men make the first moves? If you start befriending them how do they take it to the next level?

    I’ve started chatting to a Chinese guy and he said if I ever need any help to ask him. I think he was sincere.

    I would like to get to know him so I’ll ask him to to help with something. However how do you know if they want to take it further
    Jocelyn how long were you friends with your husband before you started dating?

  9. Oooh. Jenny poses a good question. Say that I do all this to let him know I’m interested, will I continue to have to make the first move?

    1. Thanks for the bump on this topic Sarah, and Jenny does pose some good questions.

      Sometimes Chinese men make the first move, but not always. A lot of times, he thinks you’re either not interested (because most Western women aren’t). Or if he knows you can’t speak Chinese, that adds extra anxiety to something that is already an anxious experience (namely, approaching women). So barriers exist.

      How do you know if he wants to take it further? Here’s some guidance in that from an article I did a while back on Indirect Dating and Chinese Men.

      I was friends w/ my husband for over a month before we became an official couple. And during that month, we did a lot of “indirect dating.” If you want to read about it, check out my memoir pieces I wrote about it last year, starting with the first chapter.

  10. Sarah, I find myself in a very similar situation, so I’m interested on what’s going to happen next. My cute chinese boy works as a cashier at a local chinese shop. I use to go there with my grandparents and I haven’t really noticed him the other times but the last two times I could’t help feeling very attracted to him. I don’t know what to do, really :/

  11. Andreia, I think that everyone here is correct. I think the best step is to ask him for help looking for something or ask him questions about something in the shop. I haven’t been there since I last said, so I haven’t had a chance to do so. I do plan to go there soon and I will talk to him and I will update on here how it went.

  12. Yes, that’s probably the best thing to do. Otherwise, we’ll never know. But this is too recent… I’m still so unsure about it. But I can’t help thinking about him… and his smile xD
    I’ll update on here how my next trip to the shop went. But I’m even afraid of entering the shop!

  13. Copy & paste from the blog of someone living in Japan:

  14. Today I went to the forementioned Chinese Store to buy some stuff I needed and I was in a good mood because I was going to see him. As soon as I entered the store I didn’t saw him on the check out as expected. Instead of him there was another guy, the guy that’s usually on the check out in front of him. I wandered around the store for a while in hopes to see him, but without any luck. I just hope it was his day off, or that he was ill or something like that, though I have this bad feeling telling me he’s not working there anymore 🙁 I’m planning on passing by tomorrow just to confirm.
    I was thinking of telling him “Nǐ hǎo” and then “Zài jī ēn” but I’m afraid that he somehow feels offended or that I’m being forward. What do you think?

  15. Hmm. I hope it is his day off. If it is, then I think that exercising your Chinese would be a good idea. I think he might be impressed by the effort. It won’t hurt to try.

    This past weekend I went to the store as well. It was really strange to me. I’m pretty positive that he’s not into me and if he is, I’m not going to chase him around. Here’s what happened:

    My mom and I went to buy some things we need. Well, he was there and I was going to try and make conversation with him but there were these younger girls in front of us at the register. Well suddenly he was very talkative with them, which is fine obviously and I was talking to my mom but I could see that he kept looking at me. I did my best not to glance back at him but idk I guess his glances drew the attention of the girls and they turned and looked at me and then turned away and started talking louder in Chinese. So then they moved out of the way indicating that they were going to be staying. Then he clammed up and treated me the exact same way that he did when I brought my friend into the store with me. I even tried to say hi and he just kind of mumbled hi back and rushed us.

    So, I’m not going to try pursue him anymore.

    By the way, feel free to message me if you want at [email protected]. If you’re uncomfortable messaging me, I’ll just wait till I’m notified that you commented here. ^_^ Good luck again!

  16. Loo Wen,

    Sarah, I feel that when he glanced at you, he was trying to assess your feeling by reading your reaction.

    When he clammed up, he was trying to hide his insecurities from the others and from himself especially when he is unsure of his chances of success.

    In the affairs of heart, Chinese men can appear to be a mystery sometimes especially in their apparent inconsistency. Communication can come in the form of body gesture and when agitated in the presence of third party, Chinese men can suddenly excommunicate in an abrupt way. This can be rude and hurtful but I do not think that he was intentional.

    The apparent lack of progress is actually progress in itself. Have faith. You are doing fine.

    My French wife and I are still discovering ourselves after 13 years together.

    Best wishes.

  17. Loo Wen,

    Thank you for your message. Your words give me courage and hope, even though I’m not so sure anymore. Something I have noticed though, he’s never like that when my brother is there with me. Even when other people are around, he’s always really friendly and polite. I don’t know if that means anything though, I’m just putting it out there.

    So, I’m not going to actively pursue him. I’ll be the same that I always am and if he does like me and get the courage to let me know and I am still single, I will definitely say yes to him. I don’t actively look for someone to date, so I can’t see myself in a relationship any time soon but I am also not going to wait for him.

    I would just be direct with him but his actions cause me to be too nervous to do so.

  18. Having a guy friend accompany you to the store probably not a good idea at early stage.

    Have you ever wonder your chinese guy might be thinking that you have a boyfriend already!?? You came to the store twice in the row with a guy in tow, what do you think your chinese guy thinking?

    Try “discreetly” telling him that, that guy is only a friend… then you might be getting somewhere…

  19. Thank you Bernard.

    It probably wasn’t a good idea but I’m certainly not going to have my friend sit the car or something like something to be hidden, just so the guy I like doesn’t think I’m dating him. So idk, it’s kind of a catch 22.

    However, I am seeing someone now. He’s coincidentally Chinese as well. I still go to that store but I’m less aware of him as I once was, so I honestly can’t say whether he still seems interested. But I’m assuming not since nothing ever happened. He’s still super nice and helpful as he always was.

  20. Great tips.

    Chinese men love showing off their abilities to help.

    Maybe asking him to get your computer fixed is a good idea.

    From a Chinese with a European gf.

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