Yi, er, san, qiezi !’ This is what the Chinese say when taking a photograph. Qiezi being the Chinese word for aubergine/eggplant/brinjal. It is their equivalent of saying ‘one, two, three – cheese!’ meaning ‘give me a big smile’. When one says qiezi /cheese one’s mouth automatically goes into a smiley shape.
The Chinese are mad about taking photographs. Every event, whether public or personal, has everyone reaching for their cameras or smart phones to record it for posterity. And why not.
When we are away from Beijing and visiting some local temple or beauty spot, it is not unusual to find oneself hijacked by Chinese individuals or families all wanting to have their photos taken with you. There is no point causing a diplomatic incident by refusing, the quickest solution is to say ‘aubergine’ to yourself, let them put their arms through yours or over your shoulder as though you were their new best friend and let them get on with it. The family albums of total strangers up and down the land must contain photos featuring my dear husband or me – taken in various places, grinning like lunatics. I have come to the conclusion that we are seen as a novelty item – a bit like having your photo taken with Mickey or Minnie in Disneyland. It’s a weird kind of celebrity, not that the Kardashians or Posh ‘n Becks would rate it. I used to be very self-conscious about having my photo taken, but now I couldn’t care less – because no-one knows who I am!
But there is one thing they do here that drives me nuts. Every small child and/or teenager has been programmed (practically at birth) to make the Churchillian V-sign with their forefinger and second finger when being snapped. It is practically impossible to get a picture of any child or of a family group without the kids very obviously ‘posing’ with both hands to the fore, giving the V-sign.
It looks so bloody artificial and contrived but the Chinese seem to think it is expected and the appropriate thing to do. I have witnessed mothers and fathers instructing kids as young as two to do this, and telling them to ‘look cute’.
The result is that if any child sees a camera, they instantly adopt the pose, and so one can never get a quick relaxed snap of any place without the foreground mob of little or not so little posers. What, I wonder, do their family photo albums look like with picture after picture with the children and adolescents posing winsomly, trying to look super cute, and with their fingers waggling?
I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but there are moments when I think I’d rather have a grumpy teenager with a hoodie on, doing their best to avoid the camera lens, and being caught mid-scowl – it would seem more natural.