I know, it’s disgraceful. I’ve lived in Taiwan four years now, and have never made a whole phone call in Chinese. That is, not counting the wrong number calls we occasionally receive, or the Chinese telemarketers to whom we say, “Sorry, I don’t speak Chinese” in Chinese and then hang up.
I know enough Chinese to shop at the market and do basic things like that, but never having taken actual language lessons (apart from Survival Chinese for the first few weeks after we arrived), I’m not very confident. If I have to make a phone call, I’ll usually ask a Chinese-speaking friend to do it for me.
But today I was determined. I wanted to have lunch at a certain Indian restaurant with a friend, but today being Dragon Boat Festival, I wasn’t sure they’d be open. So I needed to call and find out, but no one was available to help at the right time.
I could do it. I had their phone number (from the Compass Magazine) and I knew how to ask the question – if not in perfect Chinese, at least well enough to be understood. My biggest worry at such times is always what to do if the other party says more than a simple “yes” or “no” and I have no idea what they’re trying to tell me, but I would cross that bridge if I came to it.
So I picked up the phone and punched in the number. The conversation went like this:
Guy at Restaurant (in English but with heavy accent): Hello? (Not an uncommon way to start a conversation here even when people only really speak Chinese.)
Me: Ni hao. Ni men jin tien kai ma? (Hello. Are you open today?)
Guy at Restaurant: Sorry, I have no Chinese.
Me (in surprise): Oh! Um, are you open today?
Guy at Restaurant (sounding like he doesn’t have much English either): No.
Me (disappointed). Oh. When will you be open again?
Guy at Restaurant: Eleven.
Me: Eleven O’clock today?
Guy at Restaurant: Yes.
Me: Oh! Thank you.
Guy at Restaurant: Bye-bye.
I guess sometimes things work out more easily than we expect. Now if only I could call our other local restaurants to order take-out and have it work the same way!