Sunday, July 24, 2011

How are you doing?

A little more than 4 years ago, I created this website with the initial idea of using it as a platform to tell some funny stories of mine since I was that someone who spoke very little English trying to make a living in this wonderland.  However, after 4 years of being a mother of two little Americans, I lost memory.  This memory loss is so severe that I can't recall most of the funny stories that I had in mind at that time.  Plus, I no longer feel like a foreigner.  The kids have become a bridge between the Americans and me.  We attend birthday parties, we invite play dates, we talk to whoever we meet at playground, we go to malls just to ride on fake horses turning round and round.  We cerebrate Christmas, we bake turkeys, we even find ourselves enjoying the fast food from the food courts... But before the kids make us take them to MacDonald, let me at least tell you one story here.

Have you ever wondered what the first thing that we Chinese discover about you Americans?  We find you funny: because you always do small talks by asking someone how he/she is doing when you really don't give a damn to how anyone lives his/her daily life.  Okay, this did not come out right, let me try again.  You always ask the same old question when you just expect the same old answer.  This had been so meaningless to us foreigners we often make fun of you guys behind your back.  Just as you make fun of our Chiglish behind us, I guess.

The first town that I lived in the U.S. is a very small university town in Mississippi State, and most of my daily encounters were white and well-educated people.  They were always properly dressed, girls would not get out f doors without their makeups.  They held doors for others, they said thank you back if others did the same, they always smiled at people.  Relevant to this post is the fact that they never failed to ask me how I was doing!  I, of course had learnt this was only a sentence that American people used to greet others.  However, each time when I was greeted by "how are you doing?", I felt awkward.  I took it as a real question that deserved real answer.  But most of the greeters were stranger, which made me often wonder how to answer this "personal and caring" question.  Can you imagine that I would tell my life stories more than 10 times a day with, "Oh, I went to the supermarket the other day and I found myself lost in the huge amount of the choices.  In China, we don't have supermarket, we always have to buy things from real people..." "I locked myself out this morning and don't have my bike key with me, so I walked here and it took me 20 minutes.  In China, we bike everywhere..." or "I made some pork and shrimp dumplings last night. You know, in China, we only make dumplings in Spring Festival..."

Anyway, most of the times, I just simply answered "I am doing fine, thank you.  And you?"  But "how are you doing" just did not seem to be a simple greeting to me.  Plus, I was keen on telling people what a great China could offer.  I was feeling very sorry for most of my daily encounters since they had never been to China nor any other countries.  I was obligated to fill in the blank in their body of knowledge with how great a country China was and its people were.  It was fortunate that our Mississippi fellas are very patient and most of the times, they don't mind my broken English.  More often than not they allowed me to finish my stories.  This explains why "how are you doing" has remained to be a very personal question to me, for a long time.

The second city that I lived is still more or less a university city, but this time, it's a city that has a medical school and hospitals, not a small town anymore.  That means, I met more people with different colors and clearly different rankings and social standings.  Than I started to discover myself talking to elevator walls or the empty halls when I was still answering a simple greeting question with real answers.

Now 20 year has passed since I first arrived here as a naive student.  I am still a very warm and chatty Chinese inside, but I have also learned to enjoy "I am doing fine, thank you" after living in 5 different places of 4 different states.  I think it's finally time for me to get an American passport now.

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