Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Kerim on Seven Ways to Talk to a White Man

Peanut seller, Chiayi city.

Kerim Friedman, an anthropologist at Donghwa and all around cool guy, has an interesting piece up at Savage Minds on Seven Ways to Talk to a White Man:
Fifth is “disbelief.” Sometimes one’s interlocutor is so convinced that they won’t be able to speak to you that even evidence to the contrary doesn’t help. Sometimes, after about five minutes the realization that you might be speaking Chinese will slowly dawn and the person will look at you and ask: “Do you speak Chinese?” as if you’ve been talking to them in English all this time. I once heard a story of a scholar in China in the 80′s who was fluent in Cantonese and asked two farmers in Guangzhou for directions to XX village. They just stared at him, silent. Eventually he gave up and walked away, only to hear one farmer say to the other: “Funny, it sounded just like he was asking directions to XX village!”
If you've lived here any length of time you've probably encountered them in all their variations. The "foreigner talk" is downright nasty -- I have had university freshmen males do it -- always engineering or business students, never my medical students.
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Kerim Friedman said...

Thanks for the link and the kind words!

Readin said...

I have nothing to complain about regarding assumptions that I can't speak Chinese because unfortunately I can't speak Chinese.
Well, I do speak a little and occassionally I did find it frustrating that some store clerk wasn't even willing to try to communicate with me.
But mostly I liked the fact that I got good service. The teen-ager behind the counter at McDonald's might be bored out of her skull and barely awake, mumbling at customers; but when she saw the foreigner her guys went wide open, she straightened up - the fight or flight instincts were apparent but she had nowhere to go. While all the other custumers were waited on by a bored teen-ager, I was waited on by an alert teen-ager who was either grateful not to have to use English or excited by the prospect of using it!
Coming back to America was difficult. I was just another boring customer.