So the last week of normal classes I played The Family Feud again with my students. While playing unexpectedly (as is the way with these things) came across some interesting cultural points
The survey question in this case was “Name an animal men are compared to.”
It turns out this question actually has more to do with culture than language, so while I did get some of the expected answers (e.g. rat, pig), some of them have different meanings, and others times I got answers I didn't expect like “monkey.”
The students did say the #1 survey answer, pig, but in American English it can mean a couple things; it can be a fat, lazy person, or it can mean a chauvinistic man or womanizer. In China, it only has the fat, lazy connotation and is used more often for women than men.
A rat in American English might mean a sneaky person who might try to deceive others, whereas in Chinese it means a person is just garbage in general. Similar, but not exactly the same.
Snake is similar to rat in English, someone not to be trusted, but in Chinese this comparison (according to my students) is not common and doesn't really have a meaning.
Fox is used in both languages and, by one definition, a bit similarly. We might say someone is “smart like a fox” meaning they're very sly and clever. In Chinese is would also mean someone is very smart, but in a bad way, sort of a “using one's powers for evil” kind of thing. In English, however, a fox can also be a very sexy woman or man, but this usage doesn't exist in Chinese.
Wolf has almost the exact same meaning in both language-- a guy who chases lots of girls.
The students also suggested “cow” which at first thought seemed a bit unusual, but then I remembered that we might also use “ox.” And the translation of “cow” and “ox” to Chinese is both “niu” (牛). If a man is a “niu” in Chinese it means he is honest and hard-working, while if we say a guy is an ox, it just means he is big and strong. I also explained to my students that we might use “cow” to describe a very fat woman.
Being compared to a lion in English would speak of one's bravery or whole-heartedness, but in Chinese it means one is ambitious.
The Chinese also compare men to tigers if they are strong and fierce... similar to how we might use it to describe a woman of similar characteristics. (The Chinese can also sometimes describe a woman as a tiger if she is strong and fierce, but the connotation implies a bit of manliness to her, like if we might say a woman has balls.)
If a man is a dog, in both English and Chinese, he is generally not a very good guy, perhaps a cheater. However, in English, as slang, it might also be used to describe a very ugly girl.
And finally, while we would never compare someone to a monkey in English without racist undertones, in Chinese it means someone is very clever.
To any of my Chinese friends who are reading this and disagree with my Chinese interpretations, these meanings I got after asking my students what the meanings are, so it is according to them. If you disagree with it though, I'd love to see your point of view in the comments.
Also, to any English speakers who were interested in the survey results of the family feud question, they were, in this order: pig, rat, snake, fox, wolf, bear, and skunk.