How could I NOT love this spicy baby?!!
Last week I squeezed in a lunch with a hotel PR, and had a rather interesting conversation:
She: Can we speak Chinese? (in Chinese)
We talked for a good, 10 minutes, before she said:
-Oh my god! Your Chinese is so good! I have never met a foreigner that can understand as much as you! How long have you been here for?
-2,5, soon 3 years.
-I know a foreign man who has been here for 6 years and he doesn’t understand anything!
-Well, I have studied for some time.
-Oh….. (excited/impressed facial expression changed into disappointed. Not quite sure why? Did she seriously think I had picked all that up from the street?)
Topic changed into food:
She: So, shall we order?
Me: Sure, how about some Chinese food?
-You LIKE Chinese food?!
-I LOVE Chinese food.
-Oh, most foreigners that I know don’t like it…
We went on like that for a while. Basically, I was the exact opposite to all foreigners that she knew over here. I liked Chinese food. I loved spicy food. I wasn’t scared of trying something that most foreigner don't like, but that Chinese people normally love, like ‘duck’s tongue’ (“No foreigner likes that!!” “Sure, but we can still try it, right?!” –I had to nag for 20 minutes before she agreed to order it).
Once the food was ordered she relaxed for a bit, until the dishes started to arrive. Then, she picked up her chopsticks and gave me a big smile:
-Now, I know that chopsticks can be a bit hard for foreigners… do you want me to ask for a fork and knife for you?
-Eh…. I can handle chopsticks, thanks. Like I said, I’ve been here for almost 3 years and I often eat Chinese food.
-Eh… yeah, sure…
I don’t know what it was that gave her away…. The superficial smile on her face? The face expression? The rolling of her eyes? Regardless of what, it was just so obvious that she didn’t believe a word that I was saying! I have no idea why, but she really didn’t believe that I 1. Could eat with chopsticks. 2. Really enjoyed Chinese food. 3. Especially enjoyed spicy food.
Even though I proved her wrong during the meal, the experience still stayed with me the whole day. I tried to imagine me meeting a Chinese girl who’s been living in Sweden for almost 3 years and who could speak Swedish. I then asked myself if I would ask the girl: ‘So, have you tried Swedish meatballs yet? And oh, can you handle a knife and fork?!’
Nope. I sure would not.
Well, I guess we are all different.
Then I was reminded by an interview I once did with a western company CEO. They had just expanded their factory and he told me that they had bumped into some major problems during the expansion because they had used a western company to re-build their factory, rather than a Chinese one. Local authorities were constantly on their backs and it took twice as long as usual to get approvals/permissions. Finally the CEO had understood that the main reason why the authorities were so suspicious was because they were using a foreign company, rather than a Chinese.
-We used a western company because we wanted things to be done well and we didn’t trust a Chinese one to be able to do the job. But what we didn’t realize was that just like we doubt them, they doubt us.
And then it all became crystal clear. Of course they doubt us…. Just like we doubt them. Just like when I went to do the wedding photo shoot with my sister and Michael, and my Chinese friend (who had helped me book it) was calling me every 30 minutes, asking if I was OK (she first suggested I’d do the shoot during the wknd so that she could come and ‘help out’ -as no one at the agency spoke any English- although I had said no, claiming that I would be ‘fine on my own.’) and if I needed any translation help (I didn’t).
Just like she doubted my Chinese language skills (that she also so often praises), this hotel PR doubted my whole ‘I love China and Chinese food’ –attitude. Quite funny if you think about it. I wonder what you’re supposed to say/do in order to avoid a Chinese person them doubting your words/ability… Proving them wrong is obviously not enough.