In 2004, when Lisa and I were first beginning to purchase goods for Globetrotter Imports we took a trip to China to meet with prospective manufacturers. We had learned a great deal about importing during this trip, but I’ll cover this topic later. In this post, I’ll share a humorous experience that I had while trying to order a beer.
Before I begin, let me say that communicating in China was difficult for Lisa and I. We encountered very few Chinese who spoke English. Our hotel manager knew a little English if written in an email, but when speaking to him, he had difficulty responding. At trade shows, English speaking Chinese were more common; they tended to be young and college educated. But outside of these venues, most Chinese spoke little or no English. With that being said, let me begin my story.
We had just returned to our hotel room after a long day of walking around at a trade show in Guangzhou. Lisa was beat and wanted to stay in the hotel room. I was tired too, but had a craving for a cold Chinese beer. So I decided to walk to a restaurant about 1/4 mile up the street. Upon entering the restaurant, I was greeted by a young hostess. Immediately, I put my newly learned Mandarin to work and said, “Ni hao ma” (Hello, how are you?). She smiled widely and began talking to me as if I knew more than the 10 or so words that I had learned over the preceding days. I looked at her with wide eyes and shrugged my shoulders saying “That’s all I know”. I doubt she knew what I said, but she giggled and proceeded to take me to a table.
A waiter soon approached. After we each exchanged “Ni hao’s”, I began ordering a beer. I pulled out my Fodor’s book on China and began reading the words that I had earlier identified as being appropriate for ordering a beer. The waiter looked at me as if I just insulted him, so I tried ordering again. He still didn’t know what I was trying to say. After several attempts, the waiter became frustrated and called over another waiter. Again, I read the same words to the second waiter and got the same response.
I was becoming more and more apathetic and starting to think that I was going home thirsty. Just as I was about to give up, I glanced across the aisle to another table. There sat a young Chinese couple, staring and laughing at me. The male then asked in English, “Do you need help?” and continued to snicker. I immediately said, “Yes please”, Xie, xie (Thank you)”. The couple had been sitting there all along watching me trying to order a beer. They must have been greatly amused, but luckily they felt enough compassion to help me out.
It was from this moment on that I realized the difficulty that non-English speaking people must have in the U.S. Without the assistance of compassionate Americans, their lives could be miserable and wrought with difficulties. Hence, whenever I encounter people who need communication assistance, I happily give it to them. Like the saying goes, “What goes around, comes around”.
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