#40 Differences in how the public reacts to you when you speak Chinese, compared to other languages

Bonjour everybody! It’s been 10 months since I came to France and I’m glad to report that I’ve never had an unpleasant racist incident happen to me so far. I say “unpleasant” because I actually find the useless “nihaos” tolerable as long as the “gentlemen” saying it are more than 5 meters from me or when I’m with a friend/friends. I’ve heard stories of my Asian friends who started and had a pretty much decent conversation with these NIHAO hurlers in perfect French but I don’t think I’ll ever address them unless I was tipsy and feeling brave or extra chatty or something.

But yesterday at lunch, I was talking to my Chinese friends in Chinese in the break room while waiting to microwave our bentos. I know, it’s important to mix with the locals when you’re in that country to be really immersed in the culture yada yada but with B1.5 French and nobody to speak English with it’s nice to have a relaxed conversation in a language I’m comfortable with just during the break times. There were other French girls whom I’ve never seen on campus before in the break room with us.

I can’t remember what we were talking about but at one point our conversation turned funny and we started laughing (joke in Chinese but laughter in Universal language). And at this moment I turned for a moment to the side and caught one of the girl’s eyes and she raised her eyebrows in a condescending semi-eye rolling manner at me and quickly looked away.

Now, MAYBE she was rolling her eyes at something one of her friends said so I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt here, you red-headed (dyed) slightly chubby Caucasian girl in the break room. Or maybe you just had something in your eye, I don’t know.

But one thing I know, is that there is a general unspoken disapproval of this phenomenon of a bunch of Asian-looking people speaking Chinese in a Western country like France. I know it’s not as bad as the horror stories in the US where people tell you in your face to “SPEAK ENGLISH!!”. But one thing that pisses me off is that people don’t have the same problem when a group of Spanish-speaking people speak and laugh in loud Spanish, or loud Russian, or loud English, etc. but people always frown at the Chinese.

I know this because I’ve gone out with English-speaking friends, Japanese-speaking friends, and Chinese-speaking friends in France and the treatment we get in public places varies subtly. Nobody gives a fuck when you speak English. People generally seem intrigued when you speak Japanese. But with Chinese, it’s either ①the same with English where people don’t seem to give a fuck because there are plenty of Chinese in Grenoble, ②NIHAO! or ③Subtle eye-rolling.

I hope I’m just too self-conscious and thinking too much (most of the time, this is the case), but it is true that Chinese people don’t get a lot of respect when they go out in groups in a country that is not China. When I was in Taiwan on a family trip and speaking rather loudly in Cantonese on the train station platform for a total of 1 short minute, the Taiwanese family next to us gave us dagger stares because they assumed we were mainland Chinese. And of course, even Chinese Malaysians / Singaporeans / HKers / Taiwanese like to avoid from being identified as Chinese.

Why is this? Because once people assume you’re from China and you open your mouth to speak in your mother tongue and in most instances the only language you know, you would be the victims of all kinds of stereotypical and unfavourable generalisations against you no matter how nice a person you are or how impressive your life resume is. You’re just a “Chinese outsider who never tries to assimilate in the local culture and choose to stay with your other loud Chinese friends”. I had a classmate from Syria in my French class who, at our first meeting, downright told me and my Chinese friend in class, “You Chinese people like to stay together and not venture out to do anything else.” Granted, he could’ve been an extreme example because throughout the course of the French class we found out that he was just generally an abrasive and inconsiderate, extremely chatty person.

Another reason why I know people think this way? Because I catch myself thinking like that too. Nowadays much less, but yes, it’s still there. I’m always cautious with Chinese speaking people like the other day, a Chinese-speaking family I think from Malaysia/Singapore tried to cut my line at security at the airport and I told them in stern polite Chinese to queue up (although in the end because they were going to be late for their flight, the staff let them cut our queue of grumpy-looking people who have been waiting patiently for the past 20 minutes).

Anyway, I guess the purpose of this rant post is to encourage everyone including myself to get rid of generalisations against a certain race speaking a certain language and just give them a chance. I think Chinese-speaking Overseas Chinese people like me have a unique position (and responsibility?) to spread this love because we have experienced both sides of the coin: ①We’ve had bad experiences with Chinese speaking people and we put them down with other non-Chinese or non-Chinese speaking friends and ②We’ve been the victim of this stereotypical way of thinking and we hate being grouped as a Chinese especially when we are overseas.

And for people who ARE Chinese / speak Chinese including myself, I guess it’s also important to give the eye-rolling and NIHAO-screaming people a chance. I like to think that sometimes they are just curious, or just not exposed enough to different cultures in the world to have the tact to act otherwise.

 

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#25 Peculiar and Multifunction French Words

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5.5 months in, and with my recent, dare I say, excellent results of the DELF B1 exam, I can safely say I’m starting to get the hang of the French language. I’ve also noticed some peculiar things about this language (as with any other language when you first get familiar with it) in comparison with the languages I already know, mainly English. Some of these discoveries are funny, some are confusing, and some are downright enlightening and immediately gives you a new perspective in life once you’ve grasped the meaning and context of it. The last is how learning a new language can, as cliche as it may sound, “broadens your horizons.”

①The word “baguette” means a myriad of things.

One time, I was talking to le bf and his mum about his sister’s stay in Japan and the following conversation  (in French) happened:

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La maman: Yeah, when Camy was in Japan, she used to eat all her meals with baguette on the side.

Me: (Oh wow, I didn’t know Camy was so particular about eating with a side of bread all the time. Also, that must’ve been kinda disrespectful to the family, no?) Oh really? Wow, that must be really expensive

La maman: *Confused*

Me: *Confused*

La maman: *Disregards what I said* Even when she came home, she would also try to eat meals at home with baguette. It’s so funny, I mean it’s not that easy to eat for example a quiche with baguette.

Me: (Yeah, not that easy because that’s carbs on carbs, I guess?)

Le bf: Yeah, there’s a Thai food truck at work and when I order a rice dish, they would give me baguettes. But it’s always hard to eat Thai rice with baguette because the Thai rice isn’t like Japanese rice, it’s less sticky and not at all easy to pick up with a baguette. But in Japan it’s so easy because the rice is sticky and everybody eats rice on top of a piece of baguette.

Me: No, they don’t.

Le bf: … yes, they do?

Me: *Narrows my eyes interrogatively* Who?

Le bf: *Confused face* …Err… Everyone?

Me: *Confused*

Me: OHHHHHHHHH

***

THEY WERE TALKING ABOUT CHOPSTICKS. Because although the most well-known connotation of the word “baguette” is of course the long, narrow French loaf but the same word is used to refer to chopsticks and even a magic wand.

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②The French don’t have an equivalent for “I’m full.” Instead, they say “I’m not hungry anymore.”

Maybe that’s why they’re all so skinny!!! Holy shit paradigm shift.

Actually, French people are skinny because of a lot of other reasons, like always eating fresh and local food, long and hearty meals with no snacking in between, walking everywhere, etc. But you know, maybe because the concept of “I’m not hungry anymore” has instilled in them a way to judge the right amount of food they should eat. After “I’m not hungry anymore (Je n’ai plus faim)” the next on the scale of fullness would jump straight to “I ate too much (J’ai trop manger)” and “I’m going to explode! (Je vais éclater!”)

Reminds me of a saying in Japanese: 腹八分目に医者いらず (hara hachibunme ni isha shirazu) which means “Moderate eating keeps the doctor away.” Maybe this explains the Japanese’s skinniness, too! But coming from a person who used to regularly binge on cookies and kashipan till she got sick in her apartment in Tokyo, yeah, I can assert that having that in my vocabulary does not necessarily improve your eating habits.

③Droite means to make a right, and droit means to go straight

So the important thing when asking for directions in France, is to listen out for the strong “T” at the end of the word. If you’re told “DUAHT” it means to take a right, and “DUAH” means go straight. Although the easiest way would be to use hand gestures and point in the direction and ask for affirmation. And oh, incidentally, the French word for “finger” is also “doigt”, pronounced DUAH, the same as straight. -.-

④Tampons and Traiteurs

Although the French word “tampon” also means “tampon” like the thing you use during your period, it also means stamps (see featured pic) aka chops in Malaysia. Another signboard you see a lot in town is the word TRAITEUR. It doesn’t mean this guy:

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It’s actually means a catering service.

⑤French people have nice “hairs”

In French, hair, or cheveux is always plural. E.g. “I have many hairs on my head,” or “You have such nice hairs” or “I need to cut my hairs.” It’s really cute because every time I hear that I picture a party going on on the top of your head, and it sounds like each and every hair is appreciated for their individuality. By the way, they also say “your periods,” as in OMG it’s that time of the month again, all my periods are coming out from down there.

 

#9 What is infected?

This post is the first post under the category named ‘Things that happen in French class’. Because tons of funny shit happen in French class.

We were at French Vocab class and this time we’re discussing “les cinq sens” i.e. the five senses. As we’re in France, of course we need plenty of vocabulary to discuss the quality of our meals: Does it taste good? Does it taste bad? Then there was a small exercise for us to come up with dishes that make us go ‘C’est bon!’ or ‘C’est mal!’.

As one can imagine, recalling delicious dishes is easy (pizza, ramen, a banana, etc.). Then we came upon the phrase “C’est infecte” which literally looks like ‘It’s infected’ but actually means ‘It’s revolting’. After a minute of silence:

Prof: Nothing? You guys like everything?
Us: No……
Prof: Then what? What is ‘infecte’ for you?
Us: … hmm…
Prof: Let’s see, do you like eating fish’s head??
Chinese students / Japanese students: Yessssss (in reality, ‘WEEEEE’ as in ‘Oui’)
Prof: Do you eat like, the head of a pig??
Chinese students: WEEEE
Prof: Chicken head?
Chinese students: WEEEE
Prof: What about like the leg of a pig?? It’s so smelly!
Chinese students (and me): WEEEEE
Prof: What about the feet of a duck??
Chinese students: WEEEEE
A Chinese young man next to me: Yes! That’s totally the local delicacy of my hometown! Hawhawhaw

Which brings to mind a joke from le bf’s sister:
Q: What is something that has four legs but is not eaten by the Chinese?
A: A table.

Miam!

#2 カジノでは読書しちゃいけない

クリスマスの週末に、家族4人でと4日間シンガポールに行きました。しかし、イルミネーションを見に行ったり、カウントダウンしに行ったりするようなクリスマスならではのことをしていなかった。なぜならば、母は毎日カジノに行きたがっていたからだ。そして、母一人で行かせるのが不安なので、結局毎回みんなで行くようにしてた。

最初の二日間は、母がルーレット機に夢中していた間に、姉2人と時間をカジノ周辺で時間をつぶしていた。

一日目、母がセントサ島内のカジノで遊んでいたので、近くのハーバーフフロントエリアでぶらぶらした。実は、4ヶ月ぐらい前に、ピースボートは丁度同じところに寄港していた!

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見て、同じ港でスタークルーズGemini(双子座)が停まっているよ。同じく赤い煙突を持っていて、まるでピースボートのふりをしていたようだ。

二日目、今度はマリナベイサンズのカジノに来てた。実はカジノのwi-fiでブログをアップしている。

さっき、カジノ内、母が遊んでいたところの近くで持ってきた本を読もうと思って出したら、姉に注意された。「ここで読書するつもりなの??お母さん怒っちゃうよ。」って。どうしてって聞いたら「”本”は中国語で”書”といって、発音は”負ける”の中国語”輸”と同じなので幸先が良くない。」と姉が説明してくれた。中国系の人の大儲けに邪魔したら本当に大変なことになりそうなのですぐに本を鞄にしまっておいた。

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せめてシンガポールのカジノの周辺はとても歩きやすく見所もたくさんあったからなかなか面白かった。ガーデンズ・バイ・ザ・ベイはとても込んでいたのは残念だったが。次回ぜひ行きたいな!

#2 No Reading at the Casino

I’m in Singapore for four days with my mum and 2 sisters over a long Christmas weekend but my trip so far hasn’t been all happy and Christmassy with twinkly lights and countdowns like you would imagine. Why? Because mum wants to go to the casino all day err-day!! And she doesn’t feel comfortable being alone there so we end up having to mumsit her.

So much of the past two days have been spent killing time while my mum inserts bills after bills into the electronic roulette machine.

Yesterday evening we walked around the harbor front area because my mum was at the casino near Sentosa Island, which was incidentally where the Peace Boat docked on 8/31, not even four months ago!

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Look, there’s even a Star Cruise Gemini ship docked there, pretending to be Peace Boat.

Today we are at the casino at the Marina Bay Sands hotel. I am literally typing and uploading this from the casino wifi.

I wanted to read my book at a corner near my mum and my sister told me not to do that because mum would flip out. I’m like why? Because 書 (‘book’ in Chinese) has the same pronunciation ‘shu’ as 輸 (‘to lose’ in Chinese) so it isn’t auspicious. I laughed so hard but then I realised she was serious. If I were to read a book there inside the casino, I think not just my mum, other aunties and uncles will most probably chase me away.

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At least the surrounding areas of these casinos are nice and walkable. Too bad the Gardens by the Bay was so crowded though. Hopefully Monday!

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