With only 15 days to go until the Olympics opening ceremony theinflux of foreigners into China has begun.
Now more than ever the time has come for localsto whip up some of that 'Li Yang Crazy English' confidence and take a risk to say hello to a laowai.
I know, I know, I've heard it all before;
• "My English is poor"
• "I'm shy"
• "I have nothing to talk about"
Bla bla bla
Get over it!
The Olympics are here and this is a great reason to get into the festive spirit and find a flamboyant new you.
Often I'm out and about in China and notice people are looking at me. Yes I'm ugly and quite a sight but I also think people are interested in who I am, where I am from, what I am doing here etc.
I know they want to say something but they hesitate and often the moment is lost unless I break the ice and say a quick 'ni hao' or 'chi fan le ma'.
So let's assume you are on the bus, subway or waiting at the shopping checkout and you notice a laowai next to you. What can you say? What can you do? Don't freeze whatever you do.
Well, let's start at the basics.
A big smile never hurt.
A simple "Hi, how are you?" will really help.
Then if the foreigner isn't rude they may start to open up.
It's a risk but it is worth it. My life has been determined in so many ways by chance encounters with strangers who later became my friends.
Things you can ask could be,
• "Are you here only for the Olympics?"
• "What's your favorite event?"
• "Is this your first time to China?"
• "God, it's hot isn't it?"
Perhaps if you really want to be helpful or try to start a relationship you can suggest,
"If you need some help while you're here, feel free to contact me."
Then hand over a business card, phone number or email.
There is nothing wrong with this and westerners particularly are impressed with straightforwardness and people who can think on their feet and maximize an opportunity.
Particularly, if you are a genuine person and really want to help, you shouldn't feel bad or guilty even if other bystanders or your friends look at you like you are talking to the foreign devil.
Some things I suggest you don't say which I have heard too often would be,
• "Do you like Chinese food?"
• "Can you use chopsticks?"
• "What do you think of the Dalai Lama, George Bush Jnr or Nicholas Sarkozy (or any political question for that matter?)
• "I hate Japan and all Japanese"
• "Why do you have such a big nose?"
That isn't too much to remember and leaves you with lots of other interesting things to talk about.
Now for many first timers to Beijing, and or China, it can be a lonelydaunting experience. It is a huge place with a humongous population so most foreigners will be happy to hear anyone say anything to them in English.
China is a wonderful culture with a rich history and fabulous people. So be proud of your time as the host nation and put forth your best face.
And in answer to that eternal question,
"Of course we love Chinese food. Why - are you offering to buy dinner?"
Influx – noun, a flowing in, a mass arrival or incoming: e.g. an influx of screaming beauties awaited his arrival.
To whip up – phrasal verb, informal, = to prepare quickly: e.g. whip up a coffee.
Flamboyant – adjective, = bright, showy, and noticeable: e.g. Charles that is a very flamboyant shirt you are wearing
Think on their feet = react quickly to a situation, be spontaneous: e.g. A top CEO should be able to think on their feet and make the right decision
Daunting - adjective, = intimidating or worrying: e.g. That mountain looks to be a daunting climb
Humongous – adjective, = very big, extremely huge: e.g. Your foot is humongous