measures of fluency

The other night, because Ted was away and I didn’t feel like cooking and did feel like greasy food, I went out and picked up some fast food for dinner. It occurred to me that that is the perfect measure for the difference in the difficulties I have with the Dutch and Mandarin languages: after one year in the Netherlands, I had just gotten to the point where I could place a complete order in Subway without having the person behind the counter switch to English; after two years here, I can just about place a complete order at McDonalds. And even then I can say the words but usually don’t understand what they’re asking me, even though I know the words for “what do you want to drink”, “here”, and “takeaway”. I have a feeling that I’m having a lot of conversations that go,

Me: “I want number four” (pointing to combos on menu).
Counter-person: “OK, do you want that for here or to go? (In Chinese)
Me: Coke, please.
CP: “You want Coke to drink? DO you want to super-size that?”
Me: “Take-away”.
CP: points to amount on cash-register, having given up. They’re always really nice about it, though. I think they appreciate that I’m at least trying.

Whereas, in case there’s anyone who hasn’t been to a Subway, there you have to tell them what kind of sandwich, what kind of bread, whether you want cheese, if you want it toasted, select from eight or ten vegetables, and then tell them which sauce and seasoning you want. We don’t eat at Subway much here.

Yesterday was also the first time I went to the post-office and was served by someone who didn’t speak any English. Fortunately the P.O. is English friendly – he had the word Registered written out, so he could just point to ask if I wanted things sent that way, and the registered mail form was in both languages. Fortunately also, I’d remembered to bring stamps so I could just show them to hm and say “I want [more of] these.” (“Wo yao tzige”) I did mess up in telling him how many I wanted, and had to apologize and correct myself, but overal I used a lot more Chinese than he used English so I count that as a win. (While not forgetting that I’m in his country.)

I really need to start a series of posts on what I’ll miss / what I’m looking forward to in moving back to the Netherlands. One thing I’m looking forward to is hving more people speaking better English and when they’re not, speaking something that I at lest halfway understand. On the other hand, Dutch coworkers speaking Dutch (in casual conversation, for instance at lunchtime) are not nearly as nice about translating for the clueless foreigner as Taiwanese coworkers are.

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