“We don’t laugh like that here”

The family dog and a Yunnanese delicacy: Wasp larvae.

The family dog and a local delicacy: Wasp larvae.

One day at the end of September 2013, Q, a friend who’s living in Shangri-la, has invited me to come with her to her hometown Weixi, which is located on the hills of a fertile valley in Western Yunnan and is a 5-hour-drive across steep mountain roads from Shangri-la. Weixi is a city surrounded by mountains which is located in the Weixi Lisu Autonomous County. Not many foreigners make it to this city – usually only those who are on their way to Deqin at the Tibetan border stop here to rest for the night. I’m at a bar-like tea house with my friend Q and a few friends of hers. One of them loves to joke. After he tells a joke, I’m laughing.

He says: “We don’t laugh like that here. Showing your teeth with your mouth open, that’s unheard of.”
I: “But doesn’t Q laugh just like that?”
He: “She’s an exception. We cover our mouth with our hand, so we don’t show our teeth.”
I: “I know about this tradition, but I guess I just don’t care.”
He: “You know why we do that? Because it’s cold here in winter and our teeth will freeze if we don’t cover them with our hand.”

He was so serious all the time that only in the end do I catch on that he’s joking. After that, we all laugh together, showing our teeth.

Has anyone ever told you to cover your mouth with your hand if you’re laughing? I’d love to read about your experiences.

On a side note: I took some gorgeous pictures of the city and the mountains surrounding it while staying at my friend’s place in Weixi, but unfortunately my phone broke on the last day there and almost all of the photos are lost. The only ones I could safe are the ones shown here. The pictures show the family dog and a local delicacy the family prepared for Q grandpa’s birthday– wasp larvae.

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8 thoughts on ““We don’t laugh like that here”

  1. Too bad about the pictures, but the dog is cute.

    Nobody asked me to cover my mouth when laughing, even as a joke. Isn’t it a feminine thing to do that?

    However, I have picked up the habit of covering my mouth when using a toothpick.


    • As far as I know in the past it was usually women who were supposed to cover their mouth when laughing. I think it’s a thing of the past, but if it was still common nowadays (and only applicable to women), I’d show my teeth as some kind of protest. I also picked up the covering my mouth when using a toothpick habit.


  2. The covering of mouth when laughing is a customary thing that women do not just in China. You see this done in Taiwan and especially in Japan, too. I wouldn’t make a big deal out of it as it’s not really a gender inequality or “human rights” issue. It’s just one of those things that men and women do differently, like how men don’t wear skirts (unless you’re Scottish) but women do.

    BTW, did you try the wasp larvae? I read somewhere that scientists are encouraging people to eat more insects as a source of protein because it’s healthier and better for the environment.


    • Thanks for the explanation, I’ve heard that it’s more common to do this in Japan and in Taiwan than in Mainland China. I didn’t mean to imply that it’s a human rights issue.

      I did eat wasp larvae. We picked out the larvae from the nest together, it took 5 people and 2 hours to finish the work. I’ve read that article too, but I’m not sure people will eat less meat and more wasp larvae or similar protein-rich foods just because of this advice.


  3. A lot of people in Japan have told me I have a “horse laugh” because I tilt my head back when I laugh fully.
    I used to get sad, but my husband tells me he loves my “horse laugh,” so, well, I guess it’s ok…


    • I think they taste good. From time to time, my MIL prepares some other protein-rich insects (sorry, don’t know the name) for dinner – those are a delicacy in Northeastern China, but although it’s a completely different kind of insect, I can’t really make out a difference in taste from the wasp larvae.


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