On my way to work this morning, yet another woman greeted me with Ni hao! She was walking quickly and with determination to get somewhere. After saying politely that I do not speak Chinese, she switched to English and asked me what time it was. I told her, and she thanked me, speeding off ahead to wherever she was going.
As I had written in Ashy’s comments, I can understand the need for people to connect to someone who seems to be of the same culture/background, and one of the easiest ways to do so is through language. On one hand, I’m annoyed by the assumption that I’m of the culture of the querent (to date, I have never been approached by a Japanese person who spoke to me in Japanese– the Japanese I’ve encountered here have always started by speaking English to me!); but on the other hand, I felt bad that I couldn’t speak in the language that was spoken to me, be it Chinese or Korean.
I love languages. I do. I have a rudimentary reading knowledge of French, Italian, and German that I’m required to have for my job. I can read enough Cyrillic Russian to get by in my work also, and can guess fairly well at Spanish. Japanese, of course, was the language I grew up hearing at home, and having taken some courses in it allows me to speak somewhat intelligibly, but far from fluently. Oh, and English, that crazy language.
I want to learn how to speak Chinese and Korean, not because I want to prove these strangers correct in their assumptions, because I don’t want to be something that I’m not, but because I’m crazy and think it would be fun to learn them. There has been a lot of press concerning the signs at Geno’s Steaks, and although I think his wording is abrasive, English is the common language in this city that attempts to bridge differences in originating backgrounds. However, I have no qualms about meeting someone halfway in learning her language, for maybe that becomes a way of learning from a fellow human being whom I may not have otherwise gotten to know. It seems worth it to me.