Two weeks ago was “Super Bowl Monday.” At 6am John B and I caught a taxi to Windows Scoreboard, the place the Carl said would be “the place” to catch the big game. Well, “the place” insofar as it’s a pretty decent sports bar, beer is cheap (in the Windows tradition), and you can even get a decent American breakfast for a reasonable price. Plus they were showing the Super Bowl through satellite TV, so we didn’t have to put up with that outrageous 15-second delay.
I’m not a big sports fan at all, but I enjoy a good football game from time to time. I’d never started drinking so early before, and it was a good reason to hang out with John B and Carl, my former roommate I hadn’t seen in a while.
Excited by the breakfast food which Carl assured us would be very tasty, I ordered a 30 rmb omelette with cheddar, bacon, onions, and tomatoes. I was really looking forward to that.
When we arrived at 6:30am, the place was fairly crowded, and breakfast orders were flying. I waited a good while for that omelette, and I was getting hungry. (Plus, like a wuss, I wanted to eat before I started on my beer.) At one point I decided to go up to the bar and check on my order.
There was a foreigner in front of me trying to put in a food order. He got the extremely busy waitress’s attention and started giving her his order (in English). She gave him an embarrassed laugh and told him she didn’t understand (in Chinese). The guy tried again (in English). She apologized again (in Chinese) and started to leave. I sympathized with the guy, because the bartender could take his English order, but the bartender was really busy too, and so the foreigner might have to wait another while just to put his order in, let alone actually eat. So I stepped in and told the guy I’d translate for him. I started telling the waitress in Chinese what the guy wanted.
The foreigner did not like that. He gave me a nasty, “I’d like to order my own damn food, if that’s OK with you.” So I immediately backed off and left the guy alone. I eventually got my omelette and it was goooood. (More memorable than the Super Bowl, in fact.)
So what was the guy’s deal? My interpretation is that the guy was just in a bad mood (maybe he was a Seahawks fan?), but maybe not… I wonder how many other foreigners would be pissed off by what I did. It’s been my experience that any newcomers with no language skills are typically grateful in a situation like that. But maybe the guy has been in Shanghai a while and he’s pissed off that he still can’t order food, and thought I was trying to show off? If the guy was trying to order food in broken Chinese but the waitress couldn’t understand him, I could understand how he would get pissed at me for butting in. I wouldn’t have said anything in a case like that. But he wasn’t speaking any Chinese at all.
I find these multilingual/cross-cultural exchanges and all the emotion-laden sociolinguistic baggage they come with to be very interesting.