Posted by: thelocaldialect | October 13, 2007

My Loving Translator

Going to the post office today, we had to park our moped (don’t laugh) in an area guarded by a little old lady who may or may not have actually had any authority over the small parking lot, but who was, nonetheless, collecting money from people like us just the same. So we pull up and the lady starts speaking, in dialect of course, and she keeps saying a word over and over again that I can’t quite pick out. My husband, on the other hand, looks annoyed and is doing his best to just ignore her.

 We enter the post office and I ask him what that was all about.

“She was saying I’m your ‘fanyi'” My husband replies. My translator. Nice.

I’ve gotten this before, several times when out with Asian looking friends (American, British, Japanese, etc) whose Chinese is actually worse than mine. I’ll never forget my British friend, educated at St. Andrews, always dressed impeccably in slacks and a button down, BBC accent and all, being mistaken for a Chinese tour guide. “I’m ENGLISH.” He said, in the most scathing tone he could possibly muster, as if the mere suggestion that he might be a lowly tour guide, a Chinese tour guide no less, was an insult to his sensibilities. However, this is actually, surprisingly, the first time it’s happened with my husband. Maybe it’s because we’re usually holding hands, or arm in arm, or otherwise looking like a couple, and not a tourist translator pair. So it was pretty funny that we should get the “translator” line now, when I’m 39 weeks pregnant and our relationship should be fairly obvious.

When we left the post office I made a point of putting an arm around my husband as we went to collect our moped. The woman laughed, and said something about what a great “translator” my guy was. Usually this would be my cue to flip out and give her a lecture on cultural sensitivity. Or something. Seriously though, what kind of woman walks around about to give birth, arm in arm with her translator. But, surprisingly, Wang Yao stepped in so I didn’t even have to say a word.

“Translator? This is my wife!” He said, and shook his head in disgust.  The woman’s eyes grew large. “Wife?” And then we hopped on the moped and disappeared into Kunming’s traffic leaving a bewildered old crone in our wake.

This is, actually, the kind of thing that used to send me into a seething fury over the ignorance of the average Chinese person. However, I’ve learned to accept that, despite the fact that my husband speaks pretty much no English, despite the fact that my Chinese is pretty darn good thankyouverymuch, and despite the fact that our relationship has never had anything to do with language learning, tour guiding, or translating, some people will always look at a white face paired with an Asian one and see one of the above. Que Sera. However, perhaps the ignorance is finally getting to Wang Yao. Will our roles reverse, and I’ll be the one quietly ignoring this stuff while he fumes and seethes and rages?

Probably not. He’s already forgotten the incident and is happily playing computer games and planning dinner, so I think it’s safe to say his rage is contained for now. But it’s nice to know that he too is capable of, at the very least, being annoyed by ignorant people. It’s a start!


  1. I will update my blog with your new address. I like the look of it…I was scared of WordPress when I went searching for a new home for my blog after moving to Vietnam (where blogspot is also censored)!

    So you must be just about ready to meet your little guy, eh!

  2. ha! funny!
    We get the opposite here. We go to the bank and the teller ignores my husband and talks to me. And I have to say “He understands english, you know?”.

  3. Ahh.. I can see how that would be frustrating. Its like.. wth?! Thankfully I haven’t gotten than with my fiancee yet.. probably because we are both living in relatively large cities that have a lot of foreigners, and thus people are (somewhat) used to seeing a mixed raced couple, but in a couple of years we will be moving to the Japanese countryside where I think that besides a handful of English teachers it will just be me!

    His friends keep telling him they are concerned that our future children are going to be bullied.. yikes..

    Anyways! You must be so excited for your baby! Now that I’ve found your blog I’ll be checking in for updates! Come visit mine anytime! I really appreciated your comment!

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