Monday, 11 July 2011

Language Barrier

Customer, to her daughter: “Pregúntale a la muchacha si hay más de esta.” (“Ask the girl if there is more of this.”)

Me: “¿De cual tela, señora?” (“Which fabric, ma’am?”)

Customer: “How dare you?”

Me: “I-I’m sorry?”

Customer: “You’re all the same. How dare you assume I don’t speak English!”

Me: “Ma’am, you asked your daughter to ask me a question in Spanish instead of asking me yourself. I assumed you were more comfortable with Spanish.”

Customer: “Well, I speak English just fine.”

Me: “I see that, yes. I was just trying to make things easier–”

Customer: “I just didn’t want to speak to YOU.”

I had a similar experience recently. Met someone at a bar. Registered that he doesn't look Taiwanese though didn't really think very much of it. He speaks to me in Chinese (accented), I respond in English. He says to me in Chinese 'I can speak Chinese you know,' as though it was rude of me to reply in English. I had to point out to him that I'm simply more comfortable socializing in a bar with strangers if I speak English, because my English is better than my Chinese.

Goes both ways, my friends. Just because I look Taiwanese doesn't mean that I a. speak Chinese more fluently, or b. am obligated to speak Chinese to you because you are speaking Chinese

That said, it's probably just as bad to be caucasian in Taiwan because everyone will assume you speak English. Would be rather inconvenient if your only languages of choice were Russian and Chinese...