I’ve lived in 2 non English speaking countries so far, and there’s one big difference that I’ve noticed between the two.
This is: In China, people don’t expect foreigners to speak Chinese, whereas in Mexico they absolutely expect you to be able to converse in Spanish.
In day to day living, this is very noticeable when I’m out and about in Mexico.
In a clothes shop: China
Say for example when I go into a clothes shop in China, the workers will timidly come up to me and say “Welcome” in Chinese. Usually I would just reply a simple “I’m just looking” in Chinese. That’s really the only communication that would happen between us. Then for paying, they usually wouldn’t say anything either, just the price of something. So you don’t interact too much with the employees because firstly you probably can’t say much other than basic Chinese, and secondly, the employees usually think that I can’t speak Chinese very well so they don’t try to converse.
In a clothes shop: Mexico
In Mexico, you walk in the the employee comes over and says “yoakekkgnnsiishghghehekdknb”. It’s gibberish to me because they talk too fast. My husband told me that they are usually asking “Is there anything you are looking for in particular?” So then, when I go and pay they might ask MORE things, to which I don’t understand. Maybe they might have a promotion on and they are telling you about it. But of course all I hear is gibberish! Because I’m not Mexican looking, to them I’m either a foreigner who’s learning Spanish or maybe I was born here but from a non-mexican family.
In a shop: China
In Chengdu there are these shops called ‘Hongqi’, and they are everywhere! They sell household things, food, rice…usual things you would find in a shop! I’ve been to these places loads of times, and not once has the employee at the counter asked me anything. They just scanned the item and I paid. That was it. No communication whatsoever!
In a shop: Mexico
Here it’s another story altogether! I (still) haven’t bought anything in the small shops here because usually my husband is with me and he pays. ‘7eleven’ and ‘Oxxo’ are the shops that are very common here. So when we enter and pay, the employee at the counter asks “Do you want to top up your phone?”… “We have a discount on these items today.” Although my husband pays, they will most likely also say the same to me, because to them that there’s no doubt that I can understand them.
In Starbucks: China
Yet again, there’s usually no more communication other than me ordering my drink and paying. And actually most of the staff in Starbucks speak English so you can even just order in English!
In Starbucks: Mexico
We went to Starbucks once and my husband said to listen to what he orders and then I can order it next time. So he orders and the lady asks him “Do you want regular milk or slim milk?’…..”The beans are slightly different because of the time of the year, is that ok?”.
So…..as usual a different experience than in China! I know these questions are good for your listening and speaking practice, but I really just want to go, order my drink in simple Spanish, and thats it. I don’t know what the vocab is for ‘Full fat milk’ or ‘slim milk’, and neither do I understand ‘beans’, so if my husband wasn’t there with me, then I definitely would have been caught out!
So with these different attitudes on languages, I’ve also noticed how Mexican people don’t congratulate me when I say “Hola” to someone. They don’t go “WOW! YOUR SPANISH IS SO GOOD!” No, they don’t do this because they expect me to know the language. To them, it’s not an impossible task for me to learn it.
In China, when I say “nihao”, they will say “WOW! YOUR CHINESE IS SO GOOD!”. To them they don’t expect me to speak the language, so when I say hello in Chinese and the pronunciation is better than average they will be absolutely shocked! Maybe that’s all I can say, but my Chinese is just sooo good to them.
I’m not saying either one is wrong, it’s just I’ve become used to not interacting much with Chinese people, and then coming to a country where they will absolutely talk to me like any other Mexican person just takes some getting used to. I’ve learned more in Spanish in 3 months then learning Chinese in 2 years, so that really says something.
So, one day I know I’ll be able to order things and I’ll be able to answer back in Spanish… I will be able to understand!