I try to tell people interested in interpreting, that knowing a language isn’t achieved by knowing a vocabulary.  Knowing a language is cultural, it is becoming the language, being part of the ethos, it  is a change in personality and perspective.
Humor is a great identifier of ones culture.  I always realize how I am not so american when I watch American comedies and how I am even less Mexican than I like to think I am when I watch Mexican comedies.

I suck at pop culture. Both Mexican and American. I’ve never seen Star Wars, Pulp Fiction, American Idol and rarely get the references made in American comedies like The Simpsons.  When I watch or listen to Mexican comedies it is even worse.  El Chavo del Ocho doesn’t make me laugh.  I can’t stand La Familia Peluche and have never once laughed during it.  At least with American comedies I sometimes laugh.  However, in both situations I feel a disconnect especially with people around me who look like the are about to lose bladder control from the laughter.  I’ve been watching a lot of Mexican stand-up comedy and joke telling as of late. I feel overwhelmed by a sense of disconnect and sadness.  I am not really Mexican. I don’t laugh at all and it makes me feel like a failure as a Mexican.  I understand what is supposed to be funny but I don’t find it funny.  I attempt to analyze what it is I am missing.

On the rare occasions I do find a Mexican comedy funny, moments after my laughing as ceased, I realize that my laughter happened naturally and I feel a sense of belonging.   Below is a clip from a vulgar, Mexican comedy show.  I laughed and enjoyed it and was pleased with my enjoyment.  Additionally, here is a link to a blog post by a British friend of mine.  She writes about Americans (and my) inability to comprehend dry wit or sarcasm…although I like to think I prefer dry humor to slapstick.

A funny political aside: my mother who has lived in the the United State for 30+ years now, was flipping through the channels and stopped at a speech being given by Rick Perry.  She listened attentively and then looked at me for a cue and asked “Is he real? Or is this The SNL?”   She wasn’t sure if she was supposed to be laughing.

How Chinese-y

When a cutlural difference comes up here in China, my friends and I will describe the Chinese way as being “Chinese-y” or we might say “How Chinese-y”  I am growing used to some of it and want to document it before I forget.

Not long after I had first arrived here I went to dinner with my friend Adlet of Kazakhstan.  We went to my favorite place, (a place I’d later find out he really hates) the food stalls at the Southern entrance of our school. The food stalls set up nightly and there is a wide array of food to select from.  Rats running around looking for scraps are also bountiful.

Eating at South Gate With Friends

Dinner at South Gate with Friends; Picture by Will Giles
One of the stalls will bbq your choice of food and I had a hankering for bbq-ed eggplant. Adlet (his Chinese is awesome, has been living and studying here for 5 years now) inquired  if they had eggplant.  The woman said that indeed they did have eggplant. We ordered two and then the woman responded “okay, come back tomorrow”.  Adlet explained to me that the Chinese hate to tell you they don’t have something.  I didn’t quite understand it then, and I also hadn’t realized until yesterday, how much my attitude has changed to this cultural difference.

Yesterday, I went to get coffee in one of the back alleys. It is really good deal; a whole pot of coffee for 4rmb with a bit of sweetened condensed milk at the bottom. I like it.  My plan was to finish reading my book, drink some coffee, and have some eggs.  I ordered the coffee and then had the following conversation with my server:

Me: “Have you any eggs?”
Server: “We have eggs.”
Me:  “I’d like eggs–Can I have eggs?”
Server:  “Yes, you can. Do you want eggs with rice?”
Me:  “No rice. I just want eggs.”
Server:  “Do you want eggs with noodles?”
Me:  “No I just want eggs.”
Server: “We have eggs with noodles.”
Me:  “Okay, I’ll have eggs with noodles.”
Server:  “We don’t have anymore eggs with noodles. Do you want eggs?”
Me:  “Yes, I want Eggs.”
The women points at the restaurant across the street says “eggs” and walks away.
Below is a picture of my friend Rachel (a native of Hainan).  On a different morning at a different place, I also wanted coffee and eggs.  Rachel ordered our coffee and our food.  The server returned with our coffee and told us “We have food, but don’t want to make it right now.  You can go across the street to the other restaurant get your food and bring it back here.”  We did just that.  As you can see Rachel is eating her food out of a styrofoam container also visible is our pot of coffee.