Language and place

I saw this amusing anecdote on American Bedu, and it reminded me of my own adventure with my sister. We were in Washington DC, headed from her apartment in Georgetown to the more tourist-friendly region in the center of town (probably going to a museum, I don’t quite remember). A Chinese man came up to us and asked a question in Chinese; my sister, of course fluent, answered him in Chinese (I believe he was just lost and looking for directions) and he walked off. We cracked up, Mer noting that he’s going to walk a few blocks before he stops in wonder and thinks, wait a minute, that shouldn’t have happened, why was that American girl able to answer me in Chinese? (Although knowing my sis, she probably said something much more funny, you get the drift.) Some days I’m really happy that my expat experience does not involve more than trying to work out bizarre (to my ears) euphemistic turns of phrase like “wedding tackle” or the near constant fights with spelling centre vs center, colour vs color, etc. Other days I’m really annoyed that my greatest linguistic achievements are in British versus American English, and I dream of taking a job in Paris or Barcelona and thus abandoning my status as a hopeless monoglot. My sister definitely kicks my ass/arse on this one!

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3 responses to “Language and place

  1. Yes, we were much amused when our 8 year old brought home a list of what he needed to take to cub scout camp, and along with his fishing rod, they suggested a ‘tackle box’.

  2. I remember being in Taipei waiting for a bus back home after work and I heard a very Texan woman asking “‘scuse me, d’you know where Ding Hao market is?” I looked around briefly, figured she’d walked off and went back to reading my (English language) newspaper. She asked again. This time when I turned around, the 4’ 10″ Chinese woman behind me grinned broadly and said, “Yeah, that was me!” I was very confused. Turned out she was Chinese-American but didn’t know a word of Chinese and was more lost in Taipei than I was because people KNEW I didn’t speak Chinese because of my fair hair. She looked Chinese, so when she didn’t speak it they just thought she was stupid!

    My Chinese never got beyond ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’, ‘thankyou’ and ‘he’s good-looking’, but I managed to survive a whole summer in Taipei, even going shopping and haggling for things (hint – bring a calculator!), and eating out on my own. (Oh, I did also learn how to say ‘There are no ghosts’ in Chinese which came in useful several years later, but that’s a whole ‘nuther story!)

    I admire any Westerner who masters an Asian language!

  3. It reminds me of when I was at Disney World when I was in HS. I had a Russian exchange student living with us at the time and she was fluent in several different languages. Well there was this group of guys who were hooting things in a foreign language at us. Well turned out it was Luthianian and she turned around and retorted back to them in their native language. You have never seen boys as gobsmacked!

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