In my last article, I gave you an overview about my arrival in Shanghai, my first impressions and challenges. Challenges. That’s exactly where I would like to dig a little bit deeper. As I mentioned before, the language barrier is one of the biggest challenges. I already faced that challenge during my time in Slovakia. There is one common behavior people show when they do not speak the same language. They start to speak very slow, very clear or/and very loud. What they do not realise is that they can speak as slow and clear and loud as they want, I will never understand them as long as I don’t learn their language. Ok, I admit that Romance languages have some similarities and there is a chance to communicate by speaking slow and clear and loud. But I’m talking about Slovak and Chinese. In this case, body language/pantomime is the key (or google translator, but hey, where is the fun in that?).
One example from two days ago. I wanted to unlock my bike (it actually belongs to my colleague). Suddenly, a Chinese man stand next to me and started talking to me. He choses the loud way to communicate. As I just explained, the volume did not change the fact that I was not able to understand him. He kept talking in Chinese. I kept talking in English. It was anything else but an efficient conversation. I had no idea what he wanted from me. Then he pointed at the bike. Then I pointed at the bike (no idea, why I did that). He started nodding his head and showed two fingers. Ah okay. A number. So that can only mean one thing. Money. I showed him my purse and he nodded again. I could feel that we were getting closer to an agreement. Then he went to his little security house and I followed him. By the way, he is the guy that opens the gate for the cars. What I did not know, he is also the guy who takes care of the bicycle park. I also did not know that it costs money to park my bike over there. Anyway, I paid him 20 RMB and our conversation was over. This is just one simple example between two people that do not speak a word of each other languages but still were able to communicate somehow.
Something I’ve already learned about the Chinese culture is that the louder they talk the more they appreciate you. Talking loud is considered as being polite. As a professional bus taker, I can tell you they appreciate each other a lot. Thinking back to my experience with the security guy, it was actually a very polite conversation.
There are two words I always try to learn right in the beginning:
Slovak = Dakujem
Chinese = Xiè xiè