Mar 15, 2010

Wedding reception anecdote

Some time ago, I was at a Chinese wedding luncheon in Beijing. Everyone sat around large, round tables of about 14 people each, with a Lazy Susan in the center.

At one point during the meal, I summoned one of the waitresses over.

"Could you please bring us one of those bottles of red wine over there?", I asked her, gesturing to the beverage selection across the banquet hall. Keep in mind that our conversation is completely in Chinese.

The waitress nodded, and briskly walked over to the beverage area. She returned a couple minutes later with a room temperature two-liter bottle of Coca-Cola. It appeared that my spoken Chinese ability was not quite as good as I had hoped.

I smiled and politely rephrased my request to the waitress, again in Mandarin, "I'm sorry, I actually was hoping for some red wine. Would you mind bringing a bottle over?" My friends at the table smiled at me politely.

While the waitress was away, I tried out an off-the-cuff, self-deprecating joke. Addressing the dozen or so Chinese acquaintances at my table, I said in an exaggerated tone, "I wonder what was wrong. Do I speak with an accent or something?!"

My joke totally bombed. Not one laugh. Not even a chuckle. Just straight faces and serious expressions. If I had any aspirations of doing stand-up in China for a living, they ended right then. What I though was brilliant observational wittiness was not humorous in the least to my table mates. What could be funnier than a foreigner asking for wine, being misunderstood due to poor pronunciation, and being brought room temperature Coke? That's comedy gold there.

I thought I had good joke material: it made fun of my own poor language abilities, and it had a sarcastic tone on top of that. I'm thinking that maybe my timing was off. I'll try with another audience next wedding reception I go to. I'll need to try hard to slur my words, though, because I'm like the American Dashan.


Anonymous Andre Nievo said...

LOL hard. That was a pretty funny situation there, too bad your Chinese friends didn't get the catch.

3:44 PM  
Blogger T W said...

sarcasm doesn't exist in Asian cultures.... I've tried it many times and it has now become enjoyable in a different way (I get a kick out of seeing blank faces)

PS. i moved to Beijing a couple of years ago and started reading your blog.... keep it up!!

10:13 PM  

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