Chinese Stories in English
Simple Mind, Simple Pleasures
I'm often asked what I do for fun while I'm in China. Well, for one thing, I like to go into small shops and watch the clerk's expression. Often they get a look of abject terror on their faces: "OMG, it's a foreigner! I flunked English back in the third grade! How'm I gunna talk to this guy?" The look of relief when I finally say something in Chinese -- priceless!
Sometimes the clerks look the other way and pretend they didn't see me. Other times they'll call into the back room for help, someone they believe can speak English. I'll wait for that person to come out and say something to me, like "Uh, er, herro?", before I say anything in Chinese. I'm a meanie.
Normally, though, the first clerk will just speak to me in Chinese -- if I understand, great, and if I don't, who cares. In those cases, if I'm in a particularly twisted mood, I might say in Chinese: "I'm sorry, but I don't understand Chinese." That usually gets a puzzled expression followed by a laugh.
I also have a lot of fun going to restaurants with my wife, Laopo. The waitress (or, rarely, a waiter) will invariably speak to her as though I weren't there. The conversation might go something like this (spoken entirely in Chinese):
Waitress: What would the gentleman like to drink?
Laopo: What do you want to drink?
Me: I'd like a beer.
L: He wants a beer.
W: What kind does he want?
L: What kind do you want?
M: What do they have?
I'll eventually say to Laopo, "Please ask the waitress why she's afraid to talk to me directly." The waitress will immediately turn to me and say something like, "Oh, I'm not afraid, I just didn't think you could speak Chinese." Then she'll turn back to Laopo and ask: "Would the gentleman like that beer warm or cold?" I'm not making this up! It happens all the time!
In their defense, I should note that it’s customary in Chinese restaurants for one person to order the food for everyone. That’s why you’ll normally get only one menu no matter how many people are at the table. In our case, when the waitress has to choose whether to take the order from a beautiful Chinese lady or an FFG (Fat Foreign Guy), who can blame her for choosing Laopo.
Also, when I give money to the waitress to pay the bill, she’ll almost always hand the change to Laopo. I can't figure that one out. When I ask why she didn’t give me the money, I just get a giggle and a shrug of the shoulders.
An American Tragedy: Not too long ago I had lunch in a restaurant by myself. About half way through the meal two young men sat down at the next table. I could hear them talking about "foreigner" and "American" (a common topic of conversation when I'm around), but I couldn't make out exactly what they were saying. I noticed they were both drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, so when I got up to leave I said to one of them: "You shouldn't drink that rotgut, the local beer here is much better." They hooted and laughed in surprise, but didn't look embarrassed, so I guess they hadn't been saying anything too bad about me.
That reminds me: Budweiser and Pabst are the only two American beers readily available in Liuzhou. Which means an entire generation of young Chinese men is growing up thinking they're the best beers America has to offer! Absolutely tragic!
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