What did he do? He laughed! Quite hard actually. What did I do? I laughed. Quite hard as well but I also turned beet red.
As I’ve said before, Mandarin is a mine-field. One wrong tone and you end up asking your driver to kiss you instead of asking a question. The word that caused the trouble is wen. It has 7 different meanings but only 4 pronunciations. Yeah, sometimes you pronounce a word with the same tone and the only way to know the meaning is by context! I know there are some words like that in English but it’s a lot worse in Mandarin.
wěn=kiss. This tone is the third tone. Here’s how you say it. The ‘e’ is pronounced like the ‘e’ in her. The third tone starts low, then falls lower before rising again to a point slightly higher that the starting point; louder at the beginning and end than in the middle; slightly longer than the first tone. (This is the way the Berlitz dictionary describes how to pronounce the third tone. It’s easier than it seems but come on, who the heck can understand that!)
wèn=ask. This is the fourth tone. It starts high then drops sharply in pitch and volume; like saying ‘right’ when agreeing to an instruction. It’s an easy tone and I should not have failed.
In class I was learning in-depth shopping. Part of my homework was to ask Ben where he bought something. I chose to ask him where he bought his pants. I always prepare him when I’m going to speak an entire sentence in Chinese by saying, “OK, I’m going to try this whole thing in Chinese.” or “OK, are you ready?” And whenever I do he gets the funniest, most anticipatory grin on his face while simultaneously raising his eyebrow and leaning over to listen. It’s very endearing.
Me (in Mandarin): “I have homework.” And he smiled in anticipation.
Me (in Mandarin and what I meant to say): “I have to ask you where you bought something.”
Me (in Mandarin and what I actually said): “I have to kiss you…”
Didn’t get any further than that because he started to laugh. I knew instantly why he was laughing. I’ve made the same mistake with E during my lesson so I practiced what I was going to say to Ben. Practiced and still managed to do exactly what I was trying to avoid. After we collected ourselves:
Ben: “This word is some trouble.” I hear that from him frequently and not just about speaking Chinese.
Me: “I know. I practiced and still got it wrong.”
Ben: “It OK, it OK. Chinese people know it hard for waiguoren (foreigners) to speak Chinese. It OK.”
Me: “I am so glad I don’t look like a local because they know not to expect much.”
He nodded a little too enthusiastically if you ask me. 😉 This led to a discussion about how sometimes it’s not so bad to stand out.
I told Anders about it this morning. He thought it was hilarious. So what did the cheeky monkey do? He got in the car this morning and asked Ben to kiss him! I had called him about 5 minutes after he left to remind him of something. When Anders answered he was laughing and I could hear Ben too! I asked him what was so funny and he told me that he asked Ben to kiss him and then they both started guffawing again. Guess he’s jealous. I’m just not sure if it’s Ben or me that he’s jealous of. 🙂
5:30PM – 64°