One warm Saturday morning in Connecticut, I needed to run to the post office. I had a list of things to do and going to the post office was on that list, so I made an effort to get there early in an attempt to beat the lines.
But of course, everyone else was thinking the same thing, so by the time I got there the line was out the door. And what made it even more annoying was that the line wasn’t moving. After a few minutes, I realized why.
There was some kind of argument going on at the counter. Not really surprising. Post offices are like DMVs and you never know what you are going to get. But this argument was one-sided and the lady at the counter was getting increasingly rude and condescending.
There was a Chinese man trying to send a package to China and he couldn’t speak English to save his life. Normally, I would just fall back and let this event naturally unfold, but the line was long, and it wasn’t going to move unless someone sped this along.
Also, the stares rural white Connecticut folk and their flares of judgment on this poor guy were becoming a bit much. I walked to the head of the line and looked at the guy and asked him, “要不要我帮忙?”
He looked at me like he had just seen a dog meow! His face went from shocked, to scared, to relieved in a matter of seconds. When he got over the fact that a black woman was about to be his interpreter, he explained the issue. I then went on to tell the postal lady what he wanted and also diffuse the pissed off vibe she was giving.
When it was over, both the Chinese man and the ‘no-longer pissed’ postal worker were grateful for the on-demand translation. I was glad I was able to help someone and also shorten my time at the post office. All in all it was a win-win.
I learned Chinese the hard way – watching Chinese movies, listening to Chinese songs, and most important surrounding myself with local Chinese friends while living in China. At no point in time did I ever imagine the extreme reactions people would give when I speak Chinese. At times, I may have hid the fact that I speak Chinese just to avoid the line of questions that follow each and every time. Or, “Really? Say something I want to hear you speak it.” But it’s a skill that is mine, and like my dad always used to say “One thing no one can take from you is your education”.