Monday, November 14, 2011

The China Diaries: Baby's First Joke

I got in a taxi to go home last night.

"您好," I said. "高新四路。" All you've missed there is my saying my address.

He started to drive, and then asked, "英国人吗?" ("Are you an Englishman, good sir?")

"不是," I replied. "我是美国人。" Your imagination will guide you through this one just fine, I think.

This interaction is fairly routine. For reasons I've discussed before, it's a natural way to start a conversation with me in China. But then, I continued:

"您是中国人吗?" I asked him, with a completely straight face, "Are you Chinese?"

The telling of your first joke in a foreign language is always an occasion to be celebrated. It is a sign that certain levels of comfort and familiarity have been reached. When you are still at the earliest stages of learning a language, you are too busy trying to understand what's being said, and working too hard to say what you need to say, to make jokes. It's even better when they laugh boisterously, as this man did. My joke had clearly tickled him. It may have been somewhat insipid, but it hit its mark.

Taxi drivers in China come in a few flavors, much as they do in the U.S. Most are either silent or overly-chatty. The former are those who decide that a 外国人 cannot possibly speak Chinese. The latter are those who decide everyone in China can speak Chinese, and they are eager to talk to you, even when you clearly don't understand. Occasionally, though, you strike a wonderful middle-ground, where the driver is willing to talk, has clear pronunciation, and is willing to concede that, while you will understand some of what he says, you will not understand everything. I was also fortunate last night in this.

We talked a bit here and there. His speaking was very clear, and he slowed it down a little bit so I could keep up. He asked me if I have a girlfriend (they never believe me when I say no, presumably because I'm a westerner), and I asked him if he had a wife (Naturally, he does.) He showed me a picture of his daughter, whose English name is Mickey. It was not only the most pleasant and enjoyable interaction I've had with a stranger since I came to China, but since even before then. The last interaction I had like that was talking to an older married couple in EPCOT back in March. It was nice.

And, most important, I made a joke.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What you are doing is amazing - I am very proud of you!