I lived in Taiwan many years ago (teaching language and wearing hats), and one of the features of Chinese I remember fondly is the prevalence of proverbs and “four-character expressions” in everyday conversation. (I can remember it fondly because I wasn’t seriously trying to learn Chinese; the woman I was living with was overwhelmed with the number of allusions she had to memorize in order to carry on a simple chat.) Here is a marvelous illustration of what it can be like (from Poagao’s Journal), which gave me the first good laugh I’ve had this weekend (lovely weather, and I have such a wretched cold I can’t even take advantage of it):
Just today after work I went to one place on Heping E. Road to let them know I wasn’t interested in one of their places, but the lady was quite insistent. “So you’ll take it?” she asked, nodding agreeably not two seconds after I had told her I wasn’t overfond of the room.
“I don’t particularly like the neighborhood.”
“But one can only be a successful official when living in a peaceful residence,” she countered, using a Chinese saying.
“I’d rather ride a donkey to look for my horse,” I replied with another.
“I think you’re painting legs on a snake here.”
“The only snake is being reflected in my soup.” This went on for awhile, but I knew when she started shifting to old Taiwanese sayings that I was fighting a losing battle. “I’m going to take a walk around the neighborbood,” I said firmly, and as she tried to figure out what I was really trying to say with this apparently unknown ancient saying, I took advantage of the lull to beat a hasty retreat before I was drowned in irrelevant flowery rhetoric.