- that what’s not being said often hints at the true meaning
- that Chinese will hear the same words but interpret things completely differently
- that Chinese are not comfortable with being direct and confronting people with bad news
… is for China veterans one of the best ways for soothing mind, body, and spirit, as distinct from blood curdling angst.
Act #1 —- Provincial Headquarters of Bank of China (China’s largest State-owned bank)
Act #2 —- China Mobile (China’s largest mobile phone service monopoly)
Me: “I wish to apply for the roaming feature please.”
Customer Service agent: “You have to go to ICBC (Industrial and Commercial Bank of China) to pay a RMB 3,000 deposit.”
Customer Service agent: “Yes, that is the regulation.”
Me: “But, when I went home last August I only paid RMB 500 for roaming.”
Customer Service (CS) agent: “Ah yes, but since October you have a new number so you have to pay RMB 3,000. If you have a number for 6 months or more then you pay only RMB 500”
Me (frustrated): “But I have been your VIP customer for 5 years. What is more important to you, the 5 year customer loyalty, or the new number? Surely the business relationship I give you is more important and I should only have to pay RMB 500”
CS agent: “Wo bu hao yisi” (I’m so embarrassed / 我不好意思), which is the habitually spoken ‘crisis management reaction’ used by customer facing workers throughout China when asked to do something they can’t do or or not assigned to do.
CS Manager: “Women bu hao yisi“ (We’re so embarrassed / 我们不好意思), as the manager gets in on the act, simultaneously absolving himself and his team of all responsibility.
CS Manager’s Manager: “Mei banfa“ (it can’t be done, no way out / 没办法 ). When these words are spoken my request becomes a lost cause. There is no solution since nobody has the power to agree to authorise a reduced roaming fee taking into account my 5 years of loyalty to their brand.
Act #3 —– The Plumber
Me: “Where is all the water coming from?”Plumber #1: “Wo kan yi kan“ (Let’s take a look / 我看一看)
Plumber #1: “Bu xiao de“ (Local Hangzhou dialect for “I have no clue” / 不晓得).Me: “Hey, no smoking in the apartment!”Plumber #2: “Bu hao yisi.” (I’m embarrassed /不好意思) and proceeds to stub the cigarette out in the kitchen sink.Me: “Where is the water coming from?”Plumbers: “Zhen de bu xiao de” (Really don’t know /真的不晓得 ).Me: “Huh!! You are plumbers, right? What do you mean you don’t know?
Plumber #2 (Glancing at his watch): “Wu dian zheng. Xia ban!” (It’s 5 o’clock, we’re finished for the day / 五点钟.下班!).
Me: But, what about the water and leak?
Plumbers: “Women bu hao yisi” (We’re so embarrassed / 我们不好意思).
…and on that closing note they are gone for the day.
Act #4 —– The Cake Shop Attendent
Me: “I want you to send this cake and these chocolates on Christmas Day to these people, at this address, with this telephone number. It’s meant to be a surprise gift, so please don’t contact them until Christmas Day!”
Cake Shop Attendent (CSA): “Hao. Mei wenti.” (Yes. No problem /好.没问题)
Me: You said you would deliver the cake on Christmas Day. It was meant to be a surprise
CSA: “Bu hao yisi.” (I’m embarrassed /不好意思), “but the receiver of the chocolates and cake was very surprised!