Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Stereotypes: If i have to be an English teacher, where is your restaurant?

You hear a deafening roar when you first arrive about the difficulties of being accepted as anything other than an English teacher, but once I got a good job I discovered it was more about the title: if your name card said editor or copywriter then you were fair game to be treated as a moving dictionary; if your name card said manager then you usually got respect as a businessman. Still, even when I became a manager in a computer company there were one or two guys who just wouldn’t get it.

A new colleague, Joe Hsieh, knew I spoke Chinese but all week he been interjecting with “Do you understand?” after everything my colleagues said to me in Chinese, so intent on acting as translator, he was willing to ignore that his Taiwanese colleagues spoke better English than him and could do their own translation - if they wanted.

During the break in our weekly marketing meeting he came over and put his arm around my shoulder. “Hsin Ku, Hsin ku,” she said while giving me a look that he understood how tough it was in a foreign country.

He then turned to our colleagues: “Isn’t it great to have a foreigner in the office. You can teach us all English.”

I was usually restrained in the company, figuring smiling and ignoring would get me further, but it seemed this tactic wasn’t working with Joe.

“So have you lived abroad Joe?” I asked.

“Yes, I lived in Texas for two years.”

“So, you opened a restaurant while you were there?”

“No, of course not. I worked for Compaq.”

“Well, why not? You are Chinese.”

“I have an MBA.” He had still not got the point - too feverishly wrapped up in making it known that he was educated.

“I think you missed a good opportunity! What about Gong fu? All you Chinese know Gong fu, you could have opened a school.”

Only loud laughter from the others was able to cause a dawning.

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