Saturday, March 23, 2013

Taxicab Confessions…

When I first arrived in Shanghai, I had one foreign language-learning goal.  I wanted to be able to tell a cab driver how to take me home without the support of my iPhone.  Thanks to Sophie, my Chinese tutor, I have been able to achieve that goal…about 90% of the time.   

Most of the cab rides I take are fine.  I jump in the cab, tell the driver my home address, buckle up, power up the iPhone and brace myself for my silent, wild ride.  If I am lucky, I can watch a slew of cab commercials like the one below. 

Unfortunately not all of my cab experiences have been pleasant.

Two Sundays ago, I had my first unpleasant encounter.  Chris and I were heading to a post mass brunch in one of Shanghai’s finest cabs.  We were chatting quietly in the cab when the driver turned around and asked,
“You are American, right?” 
“Yes we are.”  I responded.  The man shouted,
“Wo bu xihuan Meiguoren” and started laughing uncontrollably.  Yes the man told us that he did not like Americans, and was laughing at us. 
“Zhenda ma?” (Really?) I asked.  I could not believe that this man was telling us he did not like Americans and was laughing right in our face.   I could have told him that I did not like his cab, but we were on the highway and I was hungry.
“Meiyo, Meiyo (No, No) I don’t like Japanese people.”  He responded.  Did he really think I was that much of an idiot?  He then laughed and repeated “Wo bu xihuan Meiguoren” “Wo bu xihuan Meiguoren” “Wo bu xihuan Meiguoren” all the way to the restaurant.  Never in my life had I ever been so glad to get out of a cab.

Last Sunday, we faced a similar situation.  Chris, his former boss Tom, and I popped in a cab to check out Taiking Lu.  After showing him the address for Taiking Lu, he asked us,
            “Ni Faguoren ma?”  (Are you French?)
            “Meiyou.  Wo shi Meiguoren.”  (No, I am American.)
            “Meiguoren bu hao.”  (Americans aren’t good.) he replied.  Wow…twice in one week.  Was there something I was doing to upset cab drivers?  What was the deal?
            “Zhenda ma?  Weishenme?” (Really?  Why?) I asked.  That question took the man off guard. He stuttered and rattle off in Chinese something about Japan.  When we reached our destination, he said,
            “Wo hao, ni hao, Meiguoren bu hao.” (I am good, you are good, Americans aren’t good.)

I could not believe this man was telling me Americans were not good AFTER I told him I was American.  

After feeling humiliated for the second Sunday in a row, I needed to figure out what the deal was.  So I told Sophie my story and asked why I wasn’t getting my usual cab driver respect.  She immediately burst out laughing.  Again, I felt like a total idiot. 

“Many Chinese people feel Americans are too rich.”  She explained.  “Many Chinese people also feel Americans only fight for money.”  I could not believe that she was saying this.  “But don’t worry, many people from Shanghai don’t like people from Beijing, and many people from China don’t like the Japanese.”  Oh, that made me feel better.  I decided to change the subject and get back to my studies.

As she was leaving Sophie mentioned,
“Oh, one more thing.  Many Chinese people remember being frustrated learning English in school, so hearing people speak English makes them angry.”  Okay, I could understand that.  This is one thing I can control.

From now on I keep studying, and keep my mouth shut in cabs!