China has a tendency to put me in socially uncomfortable situations, whether it be getting mistaken for a spy in remote border regions or accidentally congratulating my neighbor on his mother's death. I've got a new experience to add to Bro's Travel Hall of Shame, and while this doesn't quite take the cake, it's definitely top 5.
you can't get away from as a laowai (foreigner, literally "always outside") are the constant barrage of
"hello"'s that start the moment you leave your apartment each morning.
People say it instinctively on seeing us. Most of the time they're just
trying to be friendly, but it gets irritating after a while. Another
thing that bothers me is people I've never seen before, e.g. waiters or
storekeepers, switching to English on seeing me, because obviously as a
foreigner I speak English and don't speak Chinese. It comes off to me
as presumptuous to assume I don't know Chinese, and besides I'm in their
country. I have an obligation to try to communicate in their
language. Think of it this way: if we Americans saw a vaguely
Asian-looking person, we wouldn't go up to them and start speaking
Chinese, would we?
So, the other day I went to eat some sushi.
I like this particular place because it's popular with salarymen on
business trips, and so the staff there all speak Japanese. I like
Chinese, but it's important to practice other languages too.
went in and sat down, excited to practice. The waitress, a solid 8/10,
came up to me. Before I got a "Kombanwa" out, she said "Good evening
sir, here's our menu."
I paused, unsure what to
do. I was gearing up into Japanese mode, and the sudden cute girl
speaking English threw me off. "U-uuh..." I said.
I didn't want
to speak English, and I didn't want her to use it either. I wanted to
speak Japanese. Not only that, but being looked at by a cute girl was
sending me into panic mode. My mind raced. I looked at her and
stammered out in Japanese "I-I don't u-understand."
She laughed and asked if I was Japanese.
"U-uh...no..." I could feel the spaghetti welling up in my pockets.* "I-I'm, uh..." don't say American "American".
She laughed and swiched back to English. "I'm only joking. Have you decided yet?"
Shit. If I spoke English, she'd know I was lying when I said I didn't
understand her. There's nothing cute girls hate more than lying.
Better keep using Japanese. Also, she had this really cute way she
flipped her hair when she smiled. I was distracted by it and didn't
think through what I said next:
"B-but, uh, is that English or something?"
Her smile was gone. "Come on, stop." she said.
uh...don't speak...English..." That's plausible, right? The statistic
that 3% of Navajo speakers were monolinguals--American citizens who
didn't speak English--flitted through my head. I didn't occur to me
that the statistic had no bearing on the number of blond white Americans
who were Japanese monolinguals. No, this occurred to me afterward.
She gave me a "come on now" look. "Fine." she switched back into Japanese. "What do you want?"
with Herculean effort to keep my spaghetti pocketed and my jimmies
stable*, I ordered the first thing I saw: some basic crab roe and
salmon, and a tonkatsu curry. Not exactly the enormous sushi feast I
had planned. Looking at me like I was a dangerous lunatic, she took my
order and retreated to the kitchen.
Thank god that's over,
I thought. Social interaction would be so much easier if it weren't
for good-looking women. I was about to pull out my book and get some
reading done, when I realized that the book was in English, and I
therefore couldn't read it in front of the waitress. So I sat there
staring at the wall like a loser until my food showed up. I feebly
muttered "a-arigatou" and ate as quickly as I could so I could hurry up
and get out of there.
But it doesn't end there, nosiree Bob.
God, wanting to really drive home the "lying is bad" lesson and complete
the humiliation conga, had bigger plans for me. I looked up just in
time to see my boss standing outside. My boss at the school where I
teach English for a living.
I ducked down and tried to melt into the wall. Please, God, don't let him come in! I prayed.
Of course, he opened the door and asked for a table. "Oh hey, it's Bro! How's it going?" he said, in English of course. He walked up to my table and shook my hand. "I didn't know you liked sushi!"
see you." I muttered. The cute waitress was now staring at me with
pure and unadulterated disgust. I put my money on the table and
scuttled off, a wrecked and beaten shell of a man.
Of course, it
only occurs to me now that if I had just said "Thanks for using English,
but I'd prefer to speak Japanese" she wouldn't have pressed the issue,
and maybe even been impressed enough to give me her number.
Oh well...maybe next time.
And that's the story of why Bro can't go back to his favorite sushi place.