I am no longer the only Westerner in the hotel. A family is here – European I guessed from their backpacks and demeanor. From eavesdropping and based on their first sentences in English to the hostess, I though French or perhaps Russian (I know, I know, the languages themselves are very different, and Russia is not really Europe. However, when eavesdropping it can be hard to distinguish nuances in accents).
Through further eavesdropping yesterday, I determined that they are indeed French. I sort of want to talk to them – my French is pretty good, very good compared to my Chinese. But I also don’t want to be obvious and bug them. Ah, you’re not Chinese, and I’m not Chinese – let’s not be Chinese together!
This morning, they sat on one side of the small breakfast area, I sat on the other, and in between us sat a Chinese couple. We’re all polite and quiet – me with my journal, the other two tables because they have conversational partners. But I become acutely aware that I’m being watched – no, compared. The Chinese couple is speaking unnaturally low and from my peripheral I see the man looking to the French table, and to me, before speaking to his wife. I catch his eye, and in his friendly smile my suspicions are confirmed. I consider this an invitation – a small one, but still. We want to talk, but there’s a language barrier. So what? Let’s do this! I return the smile, and decide to do what I like doing – communicating:
Me: (pointing to me) Meĭguó rén – Wŏ shì Meĭguó rén. (Gesture to table) Tāmen Fàguó rén…(to French table)Excuses-moi – Francais? Vous etes francais, oui?
Gentleman at table: Oui.
Me: Hăo – Meĭguó rén, Fàguó rén.
Chinese woman: *question*
Me: Wŏ bù míngbái le – uh, Wŏ bú huì shuō Zhōng wén (to hostess) Qĭng wēn?
Hostess: Hăo? Yes?
Me: Wŏ bù míngbái le – what did she say?
Hostess: Umm…excuse me, but she want to know what you do here in China.
Me: Ah! Wŏ shì lăoshī! Hao? “Lăoshī?”
Hostess 2: lăoshī – teacher.
Couple: lăoshī – ok!
French man: Execusez-moi – vous êtes de quel pays?
Me: Je suis Americaine.
Man: Pourquoi vous êtes en Chine?
Me: Professeur d’anglais.
French woman: A l’université?
Me: Non, a lycée…
And from there – well, it didn’t go much farther. I used up the bulk of what I can say in Chinese. But I learned the French daughter is studying abroad. So much damn fun!
Rough translation of the above: I said I was American, and that they were French. I confirmed this with the French family. Then the Chinese lady asked my job, which I had translated into English by the hostess. I said I was a teacher. The French father asked where I was from. I said America, and that I was a teacher. The wife asked if I taught at a university, and I replied a high school.
That’s like…three chapters in a language textbook right there!