Yesterday, my company was hosting a wine dinner. Around 30 people, including the team (my asshole boss; his not-much-better snobbish boss, who speaks an English that’s so British that none of the yellow-skinned clients understood him; LBP, who wiggled an invite; my colleague and I). I had four clients, and thus had to share a table with my boss. We managed not to fight — at least not during the meal anyway. We basically ignored each other, and entertained our half of the table. Which brings me to my point, yes I have a point, and this rambling will lead somewhere I promise.
The four clients I was trying to keep amused and entertained — Waiter! Pour more wine for the lady, my dear old chap, that’s a good boy, fanks Guv‘ — were total strangers to me. I had received by email the names of two of them, not even the names of their guests. From the names I got, I had kind of figured out that there’d be at least one woman and one man each, but that was about it. They’re friends of a client of mine, a lovely but very anally-retentive biz exec who spends more time taking notes about the wines than savouring them. Whatever dudine, as long as you buy from me.
My regular skit, when I have to entertain guests I’ve never met, includes clowning in their language, if my skills stretch that far. Yesterday night, they kind of did. My Cantonese is nowhere near fluent, but as long as wine is involved — whether sales or clowning — it serves its purpose. And since I managed to clown and sell wines yesterday night, I’ll pat myself on the back. Good show!
Of course, as is usually the case when practicing Cantonese with locals, the question of why Cantonese and not Mandarin came up quite quickly. Two of my guests were insistent that learning Mandarin would be A/ easier, and B/ more useful. Since I wanted to keep them in a good mood, I refrained from launching into a full-blown frenzied attack against Mandarin-imperialism and ridiculing Hongkies urging me to learn Mandarin, when themselves speak it so poorly. If it’s so easy, how come you guys manage not to learn it properly…? Instead, I focused on the usefulness argument. I could have just said Cuz you CantoCunts can’t speak the language anyways, only way to go through your thick dumb skulls is friggin’ Gwongdungwaa! But it wouldn’t have achieved the aforementioned goal of keeping the guests in a good mood. So instead I had to explain that yes, most of my customers indeed didn’t speak Mandarin that well, even if they speak half a dozen other languages.
One of my clients was expressing doubts. I had to give examples to make things clearer. She had made the mistake of equating “I sell wines in China” to “I sell wines in Beijing and Shanghai”. Dudine, I sold more wines, both in $$$ and number of bottles, in Guangdong last week than I ever sold wines north of Guangzhou. And while I found some of “my” wines in shops in BJ and SH, it’s because my Cantonese clients sold them there. The few clients I have who are of Chinese stock but don’t speak Cantonese (or at least not natively) all speak another Chinese dialect/language and English: Taiwanese, Singaporeans, Chinese-Thai, etc… Friday I spent 8 hours in the bar of a client, negotiating a huge sale with their end-client, a Mainland man who was very well-mannered — rare enough to be mentioned — and who spoke Cantonese with us, but Hakka with his business partner back home. The business partner also spoke Cantonese — the end-client put him on speaker, and had to remind him every 3 minutes 講白話! Mandarin was never used during the 8 hours we were together. And why would it? Nobody in the room spoke it, or well enough to matter anyway. I’m sure it riles Beijing, but they’ll have to suck it up: more business is done every day in China in Chinese dialects and languages than in Mandarin.
So why should I learn Mandarin indeed?