Friday Flashback: Cultural Faux Pas, Language Blunders

Welcome to day six of November’s BlogHer NaBloPoMo challenge!

The most random of conversations remind me of the blunders and faux pas that occurred as an expat in Xi’an. In my early days, when beside myself with what to do to keep busy as I hadn’t yet started teaching, I would roam around the outskirts of the university’s old campus, situated a fifteen-minute bus ride from the city’s center.

In order to communicate whatever it was I needed, I took up miming. Arms flailing, pointing, creating air boxes, and exaggerating already eccentric hand gestures, body movements, and facial expressions were all par for the course in getting situated.

Luckily, a friend back in the States, who met his wife in Xi’an, put me in touch with their friend Daphney. Daphney did not seem bothered by my eccentric ways of communicating, nor my impatience, moodiness, or trouble in internalizing a go-with-the-flow attitude.

Come to think of it, growing comfortable with my surroundings took months. I loved so much about Xi’an, and China, and did exude an easygoing approach compared to some non-Chinese colleagues; it would take more months (and ZJ) to really feel at home, and less prone to faux pas, at least as concerned my non-teaching life.

Teaching, well, that is another story entirely.

As for language blunders, I used to call Walmart by a highly inappropriate name in Chinese, all because I mistook the second character for 你 instead of 尔, proving the importance of memorizing those radicals.

Similarly, yet somehow more horribly, I once, of course accidentally, referenced a lower part of the body in a taxi of all places, because my tones were off.

Language blunders still happen as I conjure up words and phrases, and said blunders are mostly to keep Chinese conversation lighthearted and cause ZJ to erupt in laughter (it’s too cute, and not especially easy!). Besides ZJ, ordering Chinese at Chengdu 23 or Xi’an Famous Foods in NYC serve as the only other opportunities for me to be a blundering, faux pas-inducing non-native speaker of 普通话.

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Xi’an Famous Foods

Yesterday I threw back to apple picking, US and China editions; day four I glossed over language learning; day three I presented the KonMari method of decluttering; in day two’s post the band Bear’s Den haunted me, and on day one I reviewed Fire Dragons. 

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18 thoughts on “Friday Flashback: Cultural Faux Pas, Language Blunders

      • CrazyChineseFamily says:

        Nathan picked up some kind of strange language mix so far as he can say some words in Chinese, German, English and Finnish…wonder when he can connect th right languages into sentences.
        I am myself working on right prononcistion/ fluency. For me the tones are a real nightmare and I wonder when I will get better withit

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