Don’t play a lute for cows

28 May
Would you serenade these cows?

Would you serenade these cows?

The other day after yoga class I was minding my own business in the changing room when all of a sudden I heard someone proclaim loudly in English:

Are you taking photos in here?  This is a changing room!

There was a pause and some words I didn’t catch.  Then another round,

You can’t take photos in here – you need to stop!

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a woman stomp out of the changing room and then a different voice said:

Go back to your country! (also in English)

I was taken aback.  After making sure that I was fully dressed (since obviously someone had  been taking pictures), I started to think if I should do something.  I agreed with the first voice, the one who said you shouldn’t take pictures in a changing room but I hadn’t seen exactly what had happened and I wasn’t sure I was up to confront anyone at the moment.  I was meeting a friend for lunch afterwards and decided that no, I wasn’t going to say anything.

Later that day I told my husband about the encounter.  He agreed with my action, or rather lack there of, especially because nothing had happened to me and I hadn’t seen 100% of what had happened.

He then said – it’s like that proverb from when I was a kid “对牛弹琴 (dui niu tan qing)” – You don’t play the lute for a cow.

I didn’t follow and asked him to explain.  He said that because I didn’t see who I was trying to speak with, I might have approached the wrong person and started to complain which would have been pointless, like playing an instrument for a cow.  Even if I did approach the correct person it would have been a waste of my breath as obviously she was not in a good mood, spending my time to accomplish nothing.

I had never heard that proverb.  When I got home and searched, they drew parallels between to “Cast pearls before swine” which I can understand more or less.

The proverb is interesting, but the message seems to me one that can be used to keep people from speaking up.  If that is something that they teach little kids, it means that speaking out is not correct or will waste your time which seems like an interesting message and quite the opposite from my growing up – if something is wrong, we should speak out.

Would you have said anything?


8 Responses to “Don’t play a lute for cows”

  1. expatlingo May 28, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

    Given the circumstances, I wouldn’t have “played the lute for the cow” either. Thanks sharing an interesting proverb!

    • gkm2011 May 28, 2013 at 9:00 pm #

      It struck me as a unique one and unlike many phrases I actually knew all the words in this one! So the next time you want to serenade a cow, keep it in mind!

  2. ladyofthecakes May 28, 2013 at 3:39 pm #

    The pearls-for-swine proverb also occurred to me, and, like you, I would never have thought of applying it to this context.
    I wouldn’t have said anything, coz I wasn’t there to witness what had actually happened. I might take a picture in a changing room, if I saw something interesting in there, i.e. a mural or something that was oddly constructed – making sure that the pic didn’t have a person in it, of course. Maybe it was just a misunderstanding…

    • gkm2011 May 29, 2013 at 7:03 am #

      Perhaps, though still a questionable decision with people changing their clothes nearby. At least I learned a new proverb!

  3. Kristin May 30, 2013 at 12:03 am #

    What a yogic way to begin or end a class getting into a quarrel…
    I wouldn’t have said anything either as you couldn’t be sure what had happened.
    Always interesting to learn proverbs in a different language, but I agree with you, it seems a bit as if this proverb might prevent people from speaking up.

    • gkm2011 May 30, 2013 at 8:33 pm #

      It did kill the mood, a strange proverb all around.

  4. sarahinguangzhou May 30, 2013 at 12:24 am #

    One of the reasons I stopped going swimming or to the gym was because of the constant photo-taking. It was like ‘there’s a naked foreigner let’s take a picture to show people’. It’s little things like that that conspired to tire me of China. Sounds like nothing but irritating as hell. I don’t want a pile of Chinese laughing at pictures of my boobs.
    I never said anything because I didn’t have the language; I just stopped going.

    • gkm2011 May 30, 2013 at 8:35 pm #

      I feel funny wearing a bathing suit in China for a similar reason, but for some reason I’ve been able to get over it in the locker room. I can understand how difficult it is without words to fight back.

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