Day 97: Yelling Back

Last week I was second in line at a pretty heavily expat populated cafe to buy a sandwich and coffee. The place is totally family oriented with a “library” and an indoor playground, and for the most part people there are always polite and charming. The Hispanic woman in front of me quickly shouted off her order to a confused counter boy. She saw his expression and huffed. “In a place with THIS MANY EXPATS,” her voice growing louder, “YOU NEED TO LEARN ENGLISH!”

It was clear the yelling hadn’t made anything she said to the counter boy easier to understand, but the tone and suggestion made me absolutely furious.

I leaned toward her and word vomit tumbled out, “Righhhttt, because you move to their country with a population of 1.5 billion Mandarin speakers, and they’re just supposed to accommodate you…is that right?”

She shot daggers out of her eyes and turned back to continue ordering.

The experience really struck a cord with me. I spend an awful lot of time just assuming that I’ll be catered to as an English speaker and American, and that’s certainly not how I want to go about the world as I revel in it’s diversity.

As I mentioned I’ve started taking in person Mandarin lessons a couple days a week and supplementing the days with online classes with Coursera (which are actually pretty good), AND taking my notebook downstairs for the front desk guy to practice with me. As he points out, I get it wrong every time until he corrects me.

Anyway, the instructor I’m taking uses no formal teaching method and the curriculum is based entirely on what ever I (or my colleague who’s taking the lesson with me) want to know.

The biggest for me, in addition to the basic introductory, “hello, how are you” which is “Ni hao ma,” (which by the way, I’m told people NEVER say, they just say “ni hao” and never ask “how are you?”) was to be able to navigate home with taxi drivers. And let me tell you, learning is a total GAME CHANGER.

So let me try to paint the picture of what my life looked like before I knew a couple phrases.

Jessica flags down a taxi. They stop. She goes to open the door, as they yell something in Mandarin at her to which she cannot respond. Just as she grabs the door handle they speed off not wanting to deal with an expat.

This has happened again and again. And even when I have Chinese friends call me a taxi they take one look at me and speed off in the other direction just not wanting to deal with it.

For those few taxis that are fearless enough to pick up a white girl, more often than not at some point in the ride they yell at me asking for more defined directions (I assume), and after a couple minutes of yelling sigh heavily at my lack of response and then yell again when at our destination.

(Now, let’s get one thing straight about the yelling — I don’t think it’s intentionally mean. Frustrated, sure, but not mean spirited.)

So I started to learn left turn ( zuo guai) or right side (you bian). Stop here (ting zhe li) or that one (nage). I learned cross streets and take me to (wo qu…) and sorry (dui bu qi) for when I get the directions mixed up.

And my new found confidence and semi-understanding hasn’t stopped the yelling taxi drivers. I just feel much more comfortable embracing the culture and yelling back.

Zaijian (see you)!

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