“Ni hao,” a stranger, who 99.9 percent is not fluent in Mandarin, said to me as we walked past each other.
I naturally frowned in response. The thing with greetings in another language is there’s no telling whether it was done out of sincerity or to mock one’s ethnicity, culture, and or language.
After all, how often do people who aren’t fluent in French or Italian say “Bonjour” or “Ciao” to French or Italians?
So why is it acceptable for ignorant strangers to greet Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Chinese people with “Ni hao?”
Actually, it isn’t. First of all, not all East Asians understand what “Ni hao” means. The Mandarin phrase roughly translates to “How are you?” but can substitute “Hello.”
To state the obvious, Japanese, Korean, and other non-Chinese people have their own language.
And secondly, not every single Chinese person speaks Mandarin. Some speak Cantonese, Fujianese, Hakka, and much more.
Besides, why is it so necessary for one to show off his or her very limited Mandarin knowledge? Is it for the receiver to laugh at the speaker’s presumptuousness? It can’t possibly be because the person expects an award, right?
Not to mention, “Hello” is understood by most Asians in America. Even my 85-year-old grandmother, who is not fluent in English, knows the meaning of the word. So please, give it a go and try saying the English phrase instead.
However, it hurts me the most when others who are victims of such ignorance are also the culprits.
One time, I was waiting to cross the street when a Hispanic man mumbled “Ni hao” to me. Out of reflex, I shouted “Hola” back as he walked away. Although I knew it was the wrong thing to do, it was an effort to get him to feel the angry emotions that I was feeling.
Moreover, it was racist of me to assume that he was a certain ethnicity. After all, America is a melting pot of different cultures.
Therefore, don’t judge a book by its cover and assume someone is of a particular race and speaks a specific language.