Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Where everybody knows your name

Sometimes it's quite nice to be an alien...

When I like places (restaurants, hairdressers, spas, cafes, bike shops, pubs…) I always go back. Over the years I’ve been a regular at quite a few places in London, Finland, Australia and China but I’ve never been recognized as often as here in China. Just the other day when I went to my favorite Sichuan restaurant with one of my Chinese friends. The hostesses greeted me with big smiles, and told my Chinese friend that: “that xiaojie you are with comes here very often!” Once we sat down to order the waiter came over and asked me if I wanted to have the mapu tofu, ‘just like last time.’ Big smile here too. My friend was impressed.

-You come here every day Jonna?!

-Eh… no, maybe every second week or so?

-Doesn’t look like it.

Well, I guess there are some cons with being the blonde alien in a Chinese town after all.

The funniest experience, however, I’ve had at the gym. I’ve been going there for more than one year now, and although I’ve become good friends with a lot of the male personal trainers, there has always been a chillier atmosphere between me and the reception girls.

Until one recent visit. I took the elevator up and was greeted by three smiling girls behind the counter. When one of them saw me she said:

-Oh! It’s You Na!!!

Everyone’s smiles became even larger.

-Ehhh, hello! I replied, feeling a bit awkward.

The next day two girls said:

-You Na!! Hello! When I came in, smiling as if there was no tomorrow.

Since then it has snowballed into a line of reception girls, chanting ‘You Na! You Na!’ every time I make an appearance.

Yesterday I realized that my lock was broken and had to buy a new one. I asked in the reception, and was sent over to another counter.

-Hey, You Na is coming she wants to buy a lock!!! The girl yelled to the girls at the other counter... that of course greeted me with a big smile and a:

-Hi You Na!! What kind of lock do you want?!

I was kind of overwhelmed and picked the first lock she showed me, before I asked:

-Just tell me.. why do you all suddenly know my name?

The girl giggled.

-Oh we think your name is so beautiful!!

-Oh… eh, thanks! It’s a Chinese guy who picked it for me. It’s similar to my Swedish name.

-It’s a beautiful name!

(first time I’ve been told that! I always thought my name was a kind of simple -sounds-like-Jonna-option that my previous Chinese boss settled for)

-OK, thanks!

-And also.. we are all very curious about you!!!

-Curious? About what?

-About you!

-Eh.. OK! Eh… well, OK thanks then! 
I really didn’t know what else to say, grabbed my lock, smiled and walked away.

When I later left that day the line of girls sang: ‘Bye Bye You Na!!!’ even doing the old hand-wave, making me leave with a big smile on my face.

What a contrast to the crappy customer service I got at Carrefour the other day! This beats all previous ‘regular’ treatment I’ve ever gotten before!


Cecilie said...

You'd better heck that the name doesn't have a more sinister meaning with different characters.

My Chinese name got the same reception in Hong Kong - with different characters it sounds like "such small tits" and in Mandarin "Wash face without water."

胡崧 said...

whats your chinese name? I am so curious right now.

Emmy said...

Maybe they have found your blog and read it :)

CJ said...

Fame is upon you 'You Na'!!.This is so funny.LOL :D!! Isn't it uncomfortable when you suddenly have been pushed into limelight.You even start getting suspicious about it all.

flyingfish said...

I've had exactly the same experience at market stalls and restaurants. Not so much now, but when I was here before (12 years ago). Now I think I blend in more because there are SO MANY foreigners in Beijing.

That weird shift at the gym, though -- hard to explain. I know just what you are talking about, though. I've seen it happen myself. It does seem to be one of those situations that makes you feel more alien than ever, doesn't it, even though no on is treating you in an unfriendly way, because the people around you appear to be following cues that are completely invisible to you. It's as if they're all tapping their feet to some inner music you can't hear. Disconcerting.

Well, at least you seem not to have allowed yourself to feel bothered by it!

Anonymous said...

Do you get the Chinese girls checking you out in the shower? I wouldn't be surprised.

Kyle said...

Nice post.Yuna is a beautiful name in Chinese...

Jonna Wibelius said...

Cecile -no no I know my name is OK. It is a very simple name... 友 娜 -means friendly girl or something like that?

胡崧 -友 娜 ... 发音是跟我的瑞典名字 Jonna, 很像,是不是?

Emmy -hehe... oh I hope not.. then I have to stop sharing my gym stories...

recipes -yeah u r right.. funny huh. there they are being friendly and I feel a bit suspicious about their motive...

flyingfish -yeah it's a bit weird/unusual (something similar could never ever take place in Sweden.. so in a way it's kind of funny!) but no, it doesn't bother me. Rather I prefer this sort of 'treatment' to them just staring/giggling when they see me.

anonymous -I don't shower at my gym here in China, always go home afterwards to shower.. When I first started going to a gym in Shanghai I noticed that every time I took off my top a LOOOOT of girls were staring... I bet they were just curious about my snow white skin, but I felt really uncomfortable and since then I always come in my sport's wear to the gym.

Kyle -Yuna? .... hehe, thanks!

Rambler said...

There's a small food court by the supermarket I go to. I get ro jia mo there about twice a week. I don't even have to ask for non-spicy any more, I've been there enough they just make it how I like it.

The Candid Yank said...

It's cool to be a regular who people know and try to serve as best they can! Maybe the girls in the gym just really all decided to be nice at the same time. Stranger things have happened.

No one knows my name here, but on the street where I live there are serveral little shops I frequent, including an Indian grocery and a Turkish grocery. When I first got here, every time I entered either shop, someone would yell, "It's the American!!!" causing everyone, patrons and employees alike, to stare at me. Funniest would be that they would yell it in their language, as if I couldn't understand, but it turns out "American" is the same in basically every language :p

Let's hope the gym girls DO read this blog! Especially the ones who stare in the shower, yuk!

Anonymous said...

友 娜: means "friendly girl".

Pete In Syracuse said...

Enjoy it (the attention) if it's more than just that you'll find out, but in the mean time use it to your advantantage. Maybe you can ask some questions to get some of those answers that gnaw at you & or build some new friendships. When I get into those types of situations I never think of this advice, but always wish I did. Usually I'm checking myself out to find the target someone has painted on me...haha

mtl said...

The extra friendly/giggling ones are prbly very curious and dying to get to know more about you.

Some things they're curious about are likely what you consider to be private. But I think you already know that there's different standards in China on privacy. Frankly, I like their standards better: less rules, less crap, more open. & they don't get offended if you say you want to keep the info private. Just don't imply that it was rude of them to ask (of course there are extreme exceptions).

Generally I think mainlanders are very nice and open people once u're friends.


See, the things that make us memorable can be taken positively or negatively. Push yours in the right direction.

胡崧 said...

@Jonna. I think thats a lovely Chinese name, it sounds like your native name and really sophisticated. I have to say your Chinese friend is very talented.

That brings up another question: What is your last name in Chinese? I mean do people just call you 友娜?

胡崧 -友 娜 ... 发音是跟我的瑞典名字 Jonna, 很像,是不是?
While the grammar is perfect, this sentence is not "Chinese" enough. We rarely use "是不是" to end an sentence, you should always follow "是不是" with other Chinese phrases, such as "是不是很好吃?“ or "是不是很难?”

Thus, the most Chinese way to write this sentence should be"我的中文名是友娜,它的发音是不是跟我的瑞典名字 Jonna 很像?“

The Casual Observer said...

There's a sandwich place in the town where I work - the people always knows what I want - a ham and swiss on croissant with onion, mayo, salt, pepper and a pickle spear on the side - with a cup of their excellent chili.

I only go there once every two weeks (sometimes less). The main sandwich guy always remembers the orders of everyone else in my group. Very impressive. Onviously, they're not remembering us because of our looks.

Sometimes, he teases me for being too predictable with my order. Hey, when you find a good meal, you don't mess with success!

Brad Farless said...

There's a restaurant I go to here in Singapore so often that they start making my meal for me as soon as they see me. I always get the same thing.

Jonna Wibelius said...

Tripfriend -still not in love w the spicy food?! U should give it another try... :)

Des -wow, that's a lot of attention for being Germany!! I'm impressed.

Pete -the funny thing about this 'curiousity' is that although they say they r curious, they get all nervous and quiet if I then try to talk to them. Like, if i ask them a question, they answer really short and don't ask me anything back.. so I don't know. Hard to know how to react sometimes!

dfvx -Yeah I don't know how I feel about the lack of privacy over here. I find the staring a bit overwhelming.. It's just the complete opposite to where I come from (where it's considered criminal -almost- to stare...even if someone is wearing a bunny costume...) To me, the staring, especially in the ladies changing room at the gym, often becomes something that annoys me, and here I really miss some privacy.
Although u r right, mainlanders are normally very friendly.

胡崧 -oh, yeah well I'm obviously still far from good at Chinese :)
When I speak to my Chi friends we often say 'shi bu shi' though... like.. u ask a question that u already know the answer to, and then comfirm it by saying 'shi bu shi?' (if that makes any sense? -I have no Chi writing tools on this computer!)

Casual observer -the description of your regular sandwich made me hungry!!! Gotta love them for remembering your order though?! :)

Brad F -the cons of being a regular! :) I wonder what they would do if u one day would say: 'actually, today I'll have something else!'

Brad Farless said...

I actually did that one day. Ordered soup instead. They freaked out and asked if I was sick, if I was ok. I had to reassure them that I was feeling fine and that I just had a weird craving for soup. It was amusing.

The Candid Yank said...

well, I am quite tall (183cm) and brown so that will get me a lot of attention, plus I live in a very Muslim Turkish neighborhood. So when I walk around with no head scarf, with piercings and tattoos, walking with my head high and no children, people pay attention. Plus I am just so obviously American you can practically smell it, you only have to stand near me to tell, I used to hate being so conspicuous but now I don't mind. Funny how being away from home makes you sort of proud of where you come from. at least after you've learned the language LOL

mtl said...

Oh, Your situation is definitely much more extreme. I can't imagine how being stared at as much as you do feels like.

I was referring to the specific case of making friends with these people working at places you visit regularly.

BTW, in places like Taiwan, Japan, it is considered rude to stare as well. I think some middle ground is best. Like lagom! (I recently watched an episode of No Reservations where Bourdain goes to Sweden.)

mtl said...

BTW what is it with you Swedes? everybody on the show was talking about lagom! No wonder Yngwie Malmsteen left the country.

Alan said...

So maybe the statement "But seriously. Customers service here in China… a nightmare." was just a tad bit overkill don't you think?