Tuesday, October 12, 2010

More Miscommunication Hilarity

One Friday evening, Bryan and I were hanging out at a hawker centre in our neighborhood.  It's a place we go to relax and have a few beers sometimes, so the people who work there usually recognize us (after all, they don't have many Caucasian regulars over here in Jurong East).  As Bryan and I sipped our Tigers, we noticed that a couple at a table near ours had bottles of Tsingtao, a Chinese beer, on the table.  Bryan and I both like Tsingtao, but we didn't know that this hawker centre served it (it's not on their drink board).  So we decided that the next time the drink girl came around to see what we wanted, we'd get a couple of Tsingtao.  If only we'd known what we were getting ourselves into.

Drink Girl: You wan' 'notha Tiga?
Tsingtao- the beer that plays hard to get
Crystal: Actually, can we have two Tsingtao?
Drink Girl: (eyes widen) Wha?
Crystal: Tsingtao?  Two please?
Drink Girl: Siiiiing....toooooe, ah?  Wha?
Bryan: Tsingtao? The beer?
Drink Girl: Wha' you wan'?  Wan' Tiga?
Bryan: Ummm....the green bottle?  Tsingtao?
Drink Girl: Siiiiiiing...toe.  Ah?
Crystal: Yeah!  That's it!
Drink Girl: Huh?  (looks around, taps nearby woman on the shoulder.  They converse briefly in Mandarin, probably saying something along the lines of, hey, can you understand what these crazy white people are saying because I sure as hell can't.)
New Woman: Wha' you wan'?
Bryan and Crystal: (in unison) Tsingtao!  Two!  Please!
New Woman: Sing tow ah?
(To my inexperienced ear, what we're saying and what they're saying sounds EXACTLY THE SAME, and I cannot fathom how they are not understanding us).
Crystal: (hopefully) Yeah! Tsingtao!
(At this point, half of the hawker centre has turned around to stare at us.  Drink Girl and the woman exchange a look that suggests that I am perhaps trying to order something that doesn't exist.  We give it one more try.)
Bryan: Tsingtao...beer...green bottle.
(A woman at the next table turns around and gestures to us)
Woman #2: Tsingtao.  China beer, lah.
Bryan and Crystal: Yeah!!! China beer!!!!!
Drink Girl: OHHHHH  TSINGTAO!!!!! Be righ' back.

So we finally got our beer, and it was delicious.  As it turns out, it's cheaper than Tiger, so we've been drinking it ever since.  And now they now what we're asking for, although they still grin every time we say it.

On another fine day, I was in the produce section at Giant.  You may recall my previous humiliation there, but this time I managed to top it.  I was a little spaced out, just trying to get a few things and get out of there before the after-work rush began.  It was already a little crowded, so I left my cart parked off to one side as I went to grab some bread, then I picked it back up and pushed it off to another aisle.  The next thing I knew, I felt a sharp smack on my arm and turned to find an angry little old lady next to me.  She shook an accusing, arthritic finger at me, then at the cart.

Angry Old Lady: MINE!!!!  THIS MINE!!! NOT YOURS!!!
(I stared into the cart and immediately realized that it was, in fact, NOT mine.  I flushed bright red.)
Me: OH MY GOSH!!!! I'm so sorry!  I left mine over there (pointing) and I must have grabbed yours in confusion!  I apologize, ma'am!
Angry Old Lady: MINE!!!!  THIS MINE!!!!!
(needless to say, there was staring at this point, as everyone was wondering why this overgrown ang moh was harassing this poor old woman. I backed away, still apologizing, but that didn't appease her.)
Angry Old Lady: NOT YOURS!!!!!!!!!!!!! MINE!!!!!!!!!!!
(I felt that I wanted to melt into the floor as she continued to stare me down as though I'd just intentionally kicked her in the shin or punched her grandchild.)

OK, here's the thing.  I know that was my fault, and I was being flaky.  I shouldn't have been wandering around with someone else's cart.  And I would understand her flipping out and humiliating me if her purse had been in the basket but it wasn't.  In fact, the only things in there were some bok choy and some lettuce.  So I really don't think her castigation was necessary.  And why would I intentionally steal it?  Did she think I also came to the store to purchase bok choy and lettuce, and that I just wandered around until I found a cart with exactly what I wanted in it?  And it's not as though I was stealing the cart itself, because Giant never has a shortage of those.  Even if she didn't speak English very well, she had to understand from my face and tone of voice that I was apologizing.  I think she was just a bitter old lady and I got in her way that day.  But I'll tell you this- from now on, I'm going to be in my toes in the Giant produce section.  I can't bear any more public disgrace there.

On a less mortifying note, my super nice landlord was hanging out at our flat one day, waiting on a maintenance person to come examine our broken aircon (oh, the misery).  I had How I Met Your Mother on the TV, and he suddenly got excited, and pointed at Robin, the character played by actress Cobie Smulders.

Landlord: Crystal!  Is Demi Moore, lah.
Close...but not quite
Me: Oh, um, actually, I don't think that's her.
Landlord: No!  It's Demi Moore.  She is married to Bruce Willis.  Do you know Bruce Willis?
Me: Yeah, I mean, I know who he is and who she is, but I think...
Landlord: Yup.  That's her.  She's quite pretty.
Me: But I think her name is actually....
Landlord: That's not Demi Moore!!!!  Silly.  Sometimes it's hard to tell white people apart, you know.

This one just made me laugh, because I know that it's harder for me to tell Asians apart than it is for me to tell Caucasians apart.  It was good to know that it's a two-way street.

This last one didn't include any misunderstanding, but it was hilarious nonetheless.  I was riding the elevator in our HDB building one day, and when the doors opened on the first floor, I was greeted with a long line of about 20 preschool-age Singaporean kids.  Upon seeing me, the one closest to the door shouted "ANG MOH!" and then ALL the kids turned around, started clapping, jumping up and down, and joining in the chorus of "ANG MOH! ANG MOH!!"  I waved like a celebrity and continued on my way.  It made my day.


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  2. Next time try to pronounce TsingTao as TsingDao:) It should work better!

  3. So funnyy! Native speakers are so sensitive how the sounds of their language are pronounced, especially if they make a difference (like in English or in Chinese, I think. In Finnish it does not matter, you can be really sloppy and natives still understand you)

    Guess how many times I had to repeat a word to one of my American colleagues before he got I am talking about mangos :)

  4. It was so silly- it felt so ridiculous to sit there, saying the same thing over and over and having them repeat back what sounded to us THE SAME AS WHAT WE JUST SAID, yet they didn't understand us. If only I spoke Mandarin.