Sep 7, 2009

Something to do when you get asked unoriginal questions

As a Westerner in China, you get bombarded with the same set of questions over and over again, no matter how long you've lived here, and no matter how fluent your Mandarin is.

It might be one of the five question in this article , or it might be something slightly different, but one thing's for sure, there's not much originality in the variety of questions.

When I get asked boring generic questions, I like to take the conversation in a completely different direction. I'd recommend this to any readers out there as well. Just pick a topic that you're passionate about, make sure you know the Mandarin vocabulary so you can talk about it fluently, and go for it.

One conversational thread I like to start is about Pope John Paul II, and how great he was. Want to see a Chinese countryside dweller's eyes glaze over in confusion? Start talking about the former pope.

Someone will strike up a conversation with me out of the blue, and it'll go something like this:
Countryside person: "Where are you from?"
Me: "America." (I look away to show I'm not interested in continuing this thread)

Countryside person: "How long you been living in China?"
Me: (It's time to divert the course of this conversation) "Hey, how about that German Pope we've got now? What do you think about him?"

Countryside person: [blank stare]
Me: "Yeah, I was a huge fan of Pope John Paul II. Do you know how many languages he was fluent in?"

Countryside person: "Do you like Chinese food?"
Me: "I doubt if we'll ever see another Polish Pope in our lifetimes, or a Pope as great as he was."

[and on and on]
It's a fun game to play. Enjoy yourself and make a language-learning experience of it.


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