Saturday, October 1, 2011

The China Diaries: Deal

On an adventure in the middle of Xi'an the other day, my companion wanted coffee. McDonalds and Starbucks are both options, even in Xi'an, but she wanted somewhere local. The Chinese are not known for drinking coffee, which made it a challenge, but I spotted a sign that said "coffee" as we were descending the steps to Starbucks.

I expected a coffee stand, or a small shop. When we walked in the door, I was stunned to find myself standing in a massive, mostly-marble lobby, leading to a grand staircase. "Well," I thought, "alright. I mean... why not, really."

At the top of the stairs was a very posh re
staurant. They gave us a menu for food and a menu for drinks (the menus literally said "Beautiful food" and "Beautiful drinks" on the spine). It was my least favorite sort of coffee shop, the sort where you can't order "a coffee." You have to order a specific type of coffee, be it the Blackwood Canyon Bean or the Beckett's Bitter Brew Bean, etc. I don't drink coffee, but I find the concept pretty obnoxious.

With the coffee taken care of, I called over the waiter and asked for the bill. Since I don't know how to say "bill" in Chinese just yet, I mimed opening and closing the sleeve a bill comes in by putting my palms together opening my hands.
This, as it turns out, is a fairly useful international mime for "bill," as those sleeves are in use everywhere. The waiter nodded in a comprehending manner, and went about his business. About two minutes later, a waitress came over with a serving tray and a deck of cards.

Now, there is surely some humor in the misunderstanding of the hand signal, but to me the real humor was that he understood my mime to mean playing cards, and that it was a logical conclusion in the context. We don't sell playing cards in American restaurants, even most of the nice ones.

Admittedly, the Chinese do seem to like their gambling much more than we do. But that's not all that surprising. It's illegal here.

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