Transacting in Bad Chinese


I was trying to courier something off to my sister in India at the Family Mart, and it proved impossible to do. The clerk kept taking me to the aisle and pointing at envelopes, and I kept saying I wanted DHL, UPS or Federal Express in a mixture of English and Chinese. Finally she produced a form. After about five minutes of trying different phrases, I was able to communicate that I needed to send something off to India and not the US, Australia or Japan. It turned out that they did not serve India, which made no sense to me, but I was too worn out to negotiate any further. I ended up going to the Post Office, where I think I sent the thing off. Time will tell.

I had to get a bunch of pictures framed.  I went to the guy I usually go to, but he was away. After pacing up and down for half an hour, waiting for him to come back, I walked into another framing shop and asked if anyone spoke English, it turned out the lady in charge did not, but somehow she was able to make herself understood. And between us we were able to accomplish the fairly complicated task of picking colors, frames, dimensions and placement. It got to be so, that she was able to ask me how come I had no children, what my spouse did, and if I was coming from the US, how come I was so short. She even took her tape measure and remarked at my amazing height - all 150cms of it, which she had very diligently measured. A gesture, I confess, I did not find offensive in the least. The un self-consciousness of most people in Taiwan regarding physical characteristics is rather refreshing.

I wondered why it was easier to deal with the art store lady and not the clerk at Family Mart. Kerim thinks that its easier to communicate with those who have more cultural capital. I think he is right.  In this case, it almost worked in a motivational way.  If you can ask someone their opinion, about something they are trained for, and care about, chances are they will try and make themselves understood. And both of you will have an equal investment in being patient since you respect  the other’s opinion. Ofcourse it helps that the lady probably owned her own business and I wasn’t going to haggle with her about the price. Something that does not quite work the same way when you are dealing with an overworked clerk at a boring job.