Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Winning imaginary arguments

I remember seeing a post on Reddit (which I have been unable to track down - let me know if you can) which was roughly as follows:  "This is a graph of how I spend my time in the shower:"

There is certainly some truth to this, and judging by the response to that original graph, there are plenty of people who do this - imagining scenarios, presenting clever arguments, and winning convincingly.

And, for people studying another language, some of those imaginary arguments end up being in Chinese. Don't pretend that you haven't done it too … you know, you imagine a scenario where you're having to deal with some difficult person who only speaks your target language, and you win while arguing in that language.

What's fun is that this imaginary arguments sometimes happen in real life (although probably not arguing with strangers in the shower  :)

Sure, you get the easy scenarios where - in real life - some Chinese person is looking confused and you end up helping them by giving directions in Mandarin.

But you also get the real arguments.

For example, last year I went to South Africa and was standing in the queue at immigrations, waiting my turn to get through. Suddenly a group of five Mandarin-speaking people tried pushing in front of me. I told them in English there was a queue and they should please go to the back - but they pretended they couldn't speak English (or maybe they actually couldn't) - but either way they just ignored me.

I got really annoyed, and started telling them - in Chinese - that there was a queue, and that everyone else is waiting, and they should go to the back of the queue. They stood there speechless. The main guy said something back in Chinese, but I didn't actually understand him - so I just repeated myself, reminding them that there is a queue.

And they backed off, and then slinked to the back of the queue.

I felt fantastic - winning an argument in real life in Chinese - in a scenario that normally would only be imagined during 95% of one's shower time. Then some of the other (non-Chinese speaking) people in the queue smiled and gave me the thumbs up.

So yes, if you're looking for a reason to study Chinese, or to study a little harder, then winning arguments like this - whether privately & imaginary during your shower, or publicly with real Chinese people - definitely makes it worth while.

Have you ever had something along these lines happen to you in Chinese?


  1. Replies
    1. JP, I wish I were so eloquent at the time ... I probably just said something like: 你在干什么?我们都排队!

      PS. You're typing now in Traditional characters? Or is that just a limitation of your device??

    2. Amber taught me how to say 不要插隊; usually they escalated and then Amber would start jawing at them, in a very civilized, dignified, and tenacious way that Canadians are good at.

      I decided to start using Traditional and Zhuyin in my personal life, still using Simplified and Pinyin at school.

    3. Haha - go Amber!!

      So is that trad/simp thing just a personal development thing? You want to know both, so you just create different contexts to practise each? Or is there more to wanting to use both?

  2. In Beijing I was passing some touristy bar and there was a woman outside beckoning people in. She asked me to come in in English and I politely declined saying "no thank you". Then as soon as I turned to continue walking she said "笨的老外“ behind my back. I turned around and said back to her " 你才很笨!”

    1. Haha - great! I wish I could have seen her face.

      Something I do in HK is when I'm in a restaurant and the people at the table next to me say 'gweilo' (the slang for foreigner) during the conversation, I look at them as if I'm listening to the rest of their sentence. I don't speak much Cantonese, but I try to give a look like I can. 99.9% probability they are not talking about me, but trolling can be fun :)