[Reader’s Contribution] When I go overseas, I’ll always try to adapt and learn some conversational phrases in the foreign language, so that I can communicate with locals. I don’t expect everyone in their country to speak my language. As a tourist, I am here to learn about their country, not to impose my culture onto them. I thought this is common sense.
I was shopping at Ion Orchard when a tourist approached me and asked for directions in Chinese.
She caught me off guard, and although I understood her, I don’t speak Chinese fluently. I tried to help her as best as I could by using gestures but of course she would be frustrated at the communication barrier.
She started to scold me in Chinese for not being able to speak the language properly. Something to the extent of how can a Chinese not speak Chinese. She definitely said other things but I didn’t understand her. I was too stunned to respond, so I pretended to “answer” a call on my phone and said sorry before walking away.
I mean, I get it, I look Chinese. But I am actually born to Chinese-Thai parents. At home, we speak English or Thai.
I felt embarrassed and frustrated that I couldn’t communicate with the tourist in her preferred language. Even then, I didn’t appreciate being scolded for it. Singapore is a multicultural society, with many different languages and ethnicities. Whatever our mother-tongue is, our working language is English.
This made me feel frustrated and angry. Why did she have to be so rude even though I was trying to help her? I felt like I didn’t deserve to be scolded and humiliated like that.
I just wanted to share this experience to remind everyone of the old idiom, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”. You wouldn’t expect the people in Rome to start speaking in English just for you. It should be on you to pick up some basic Italian phrases, or use today’s technology to help you with translations. It’s the least we can do.