"Beautiful day today, huh?" "Yeah, sure is!"
Fellow laowais in China, is it only me, or do you guys also notice that sometimes when you are at a public spot (like a shopping mall, or if you’re taking the bus, or waiting for the bus or something) Chinese people around you start to speak English to each other? The first time I noticed this, some 2 years ago on a bus, I simply thought it was a coincidence. There I was, sitting down at the back of the bus when I suddenly realized that the young couple behind me were discussing polite greeting phrases in English:
-So, they say: “hello, how are you today?” when we say “ni jintian hao ma?” (你今天好吗?) said the guy to the girl, and the girl repeated: “hello, how are you today?” and then they both giggled.
“How funny that they are speaking to each other in English just when I sat down” I thought to myself, until it suddenly happened again. There I was in a mall and suddenly I heard two young boys chatting next to me:
-Today it is raining outside. Yes, today the weather is bad.
Hm… right… well they weren’t looking at me, so I figured they were speaking to each other, although it didn’t really sound as if English was their first language.
But then it started to happen more frequently, like at our yard. Parents that walked behind me with their children would say things like:
-One, two, three! Say hello!!! How are you? (to their kids, though. I guess I look too giant-like and scary to be talked straight to)
But as soon as I entered my new university, I realized that the “sudden” use of English when I was around simply couldn’t be a coincidence. During week one I entered the big lunch square around lunchtime, and everywhere I turned people were saying things like:
-It is a beautiful day!
-Hello, how are you today (followed by a giggle –I still don’t know if this was meant for me, because they didn’t look at me when they said it, although I was the only laowai around so I kind of would like to think they were talking to me).
-Hello, hello, let’s eat lunch!
And then yesterday when I was having some language exchange with a young, Chinese girl at the university cafeteria, a fellow classmate of the Chinese girl suddenly showed up and had a “half English/half Chinese” conversation with her classmate, shooting curious glances at me every now and then.
I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with what they are doing. I think it is simply a way for them to seek contact. Or, maybe they are thinking something like: “maybe if she hears that I can speak English she will talk to me and I can practice my speech?” –seeing that a lot of young Chinese people are keen to practice their English today, but feel that they have a lot of chances to do so. But it’s still kind of funny, especially when they throw in comments about the weather or say things like “what a beautiful day it is.” Maybe next time I should reply something like: “it sure is.” I’m curious to see if they actually want to talk to me, or if they are just throwing phrases around for fun.