Today, I share a cautionary tale, all about an unfortunate meltdown in a Thai restaurant.
Let's call it the Curry Puffs Caper.
It all started with curry puffs.
Prior to running a few errands, Manfriend and I needed lunch. It was time for curries and Thai teas, and this spot was a gorgeous one, nestled in one of Beijing's glitziest malls.
Things began simple enough. Hailing the waitress over, I asked the same question I'd asked dozens of times: "Does this have meat in it?" To which she stuttered something, called over a coworker, and repeated the question. (She was clearly new.) A third colleague arrived, too, as I re-inquired.
The verdict: "Don't have." (In Chinese, the phrase they used is extremely multi-purpose. And unfortunately, a few pronouns were left out here.)
I was thrilled — no meat, no problem! Curry puffs were eminent in my belly's future.
But no, wait, people were shaking their heads. So I asked again, and again they said, "Don't have." Smiling, I was set to order. But then, Manfriend was shaking his head, too.
A long, confusing story cut short: There were no curry puffs. Whether they have meat is, to this moment, unknown. They didn't have any puffs on the premises.
Hence the wait staff's confusion as to why I kept saying, "Oh great!" with a big ol' smile.
I'd misunderstood everything.
And as embarrassment settled in, I felt the tears.
I wish I could say my first reaction wasn't one of a toddler, but this is one of my great insecurities abroad. After all the time and money spent on learning Chinese, it gutted me to be bested by curry puffs.
Could I really be so bad at this language?
Manfriend's answer (while I pulled myself together): No. It wasn't that at all. It was simply a matter of practice.
That interaction had him confused, too, at first.
"So how did he riddle it out?" you ... definitely didn't ask, because the answer is painfully obvious.
It's because he talks to all sorts of people in all sorts of circumstances. There are a dozen ways to say things here, and he'd heard a lot of them before.
Manfriend had the practice.
Go figure that hopping from one English-speaking environment to another didn't further my spoken Chinese skills. Who'd have thought you have to use a language to understand it?
I know, folks. Brand new information.
Now, I wish this story ended with a dramatic anecdote featuring me shocking the pants off all of you by negotiating some sort of business deal or handling a crisis with perfect poise and diction.
But that would be a load of crap.
It ends, instead, with a couple of promises.
The first: I will do my best to avoid unnecessary blubber fests in public spaces. (Especially over crispy appetizers.)
The second: I will get my ass out there and start talking. Step aside, Manfriend. This woman's got it from here.