The comments in the last post ‘Accidental conversations in Mandarin’ inspired the post for this week ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ when having/starting conversations in Mandarin – a question posed to me by Greg from Mandarin Segments.
In my last post I also mentioned that I met a Chinese lady on the bus who offered to lend me some of her daughter’s Chinese books and I got a chance to meet up with her yesterday. I also promised myself that I’d be better prepared mentally to have an actual conversation with her in Mandarin at our next meet-up and I think I was actually slightly better prepared… progress… I have also tried my first Dr Pepper… literally…
If you’re not familiar with the Dr Pepper ads then here they are: brilliant – have a laugh before you continue on with my lengthy post – sorry I know I take a while before I get to my point!
Now that you’ve had a laugh, I’ll tell you how my visit went to my new Chinese acquaintance and I’d like give an answer to the question / statement: “Have a Mandarin conversation – what’s the worst that can happen?”.
Right. A few things apparently
1) You can forget your manners – leaving out ‘qing wen’ when asking someone’s name in Mandarin can have somewhat serious cultural implications – especially when people are older than you are. I was corrected and gently told that Chinese people use ‘qing wen’ when asking names instead of just asking ‘Ni jiao shenme?’. I mean I know this and I know it pays to be polite – and by NZ standards I’m always far too polite. In this instance, I wasn’t at all intending to be impolite – I guess I came over as abrupt and hence impolite. I think I just had a more casual approach in mind. Kind of like ‘I’m called [name]. What’s your name?’ Terrible of me? I don’t know but felt really bad for a few minutes then decided to get on with it and impress them with my sparkly personality and good humour
2) You can misunderstand a question, give an answer and inadvertently without intending to do so – tell a lie…
Knowing that I’m never supposed to go empty–handed to a Chinese person’s home when I visit them – I took a humble gift of vine tomatoes and avocados.
I’m not too sure what happened but when I was asked a question about the tomatoes I answered yes – realizing the moment I had replied that I had in fact lied – that I had confirmed that I had been growing the tomatoes myself (which I haven’t done). The tomatoes I gave as a gift were ones I bought but I also do grow tomatoes myself. So this confusion made me a liar – the Chinese lady was so happy and excited about these lovely big tomatoes I had “grown myself” that I felt the timing wasn’t right to correct her about it. It being insignificant in the bigger scheme of things – I left it at that – I mean small white lie right and completely unintentional? When she later showed the tomatoes to her husband and told him that I had grown the tomatoes myself – he was in awe too – and my immediate reaction was to steer the subject in another direction because I couldn’t look her husband in the eyes and misrepresent my tomato growing skills, neither was I ready to deny at this point in time what I should have denied / corrected sooner. Next time I’ll take some Kit Kat or something other with – anything I can’t possibly have grown myself. I am an idiot … most of the time…
Besides me showing the tendencies / initial symptoms of being a habitual liar and forgetting my manners, overall I thought the visit went well, we chatted for 2 hours – way longer than the quick visit I anticipated it to be. Some of the conversation was in Mandarin and most of it in English. It was enjoyable and I walked home with a big smile on my face as I felt so happy to have met these wonderful people.
What will I do next time about the tomatoes if they ask me again? 我不知道。
I feel like this experience of coming over as impolite and “lying” is almost worse than “my most embarrassing Mandarin moment to date” – I guess I actually feel like I’m a bad person…
As for point 1 – knowing about potential pitfalls, cultural sensitivities and the like is important and I think language should never be studied in isolation of a culture.
As for point 2 – well heck I should just improve my listening skills and react faster I think.
Have you ever gotten yourself into a predicament when you tried to put your best Mandarin foot forward and it didn’t quite have the desired outcome? I’m talking about specific situations e.g. misunderstandings like getting tones wrong and telling your best friend you like his mother instead of his horse? Embarrassing or odd stuff like that. What is the worst thing that has ever happened to you? Have you ever been or felt like an idiot yourself?
For those of you have commented before – thank you – I love hearing your thoughts. I’m hoping I’ll hear from you again. If you haven’t commented yet – you have an invitation
If you’ve got a good link to share – please share that in the comments too – 谢谢你!
Did you have a good weekend?
Pinyin: Nǐde zhōumò hǎo ma?
Literal translation: Your weekend good +question word
Have a good weekend!
Pinyin: Zhù nǐ zhōumò yúkuài！
Literal translation: Wish you weekend happy!
I am going to Singapore in the near future.
Pinyin: Wo3 zui4jin4 yao4 dao4 Xin1jia1po1 qu4.
Literal translation: I near future will to Singapore go.
What are you interested in?
Pinyin: Ni 3 dui4 shen2me you3 xing4qu4?
I am interested in learning Mandarin.
Pinyin: Wo3 dui4 xue2 zhong1wen2 you3 xing4qu4.
He is not interested in cooking.
Pinyin: Ta1 dui4 zuo4 cai4 mei2you xing4qu4.
Tomatoes – 2 options:
Pinyin: fānqié OR xīhóngshì.
Simplified: 番茄 / 西红柿
For an explanation on when to use which one please see this answer
In what dialects does Chinese use the word 西红柿 (xihongshi) versus 番茄 (fanqie) for tomato?”
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Heisig: 399 hànzì strong…