Post by Grace Chiao, Temple University;
“You speak Mandarin?” “Yes?” “Oh! I am sure there will be tons of jobs waiting for you in this industry because of that." These are the most frequently asked questions and answers I have heard this semester. Whenever people had this conversation with me, I could not help but wonder the truthfulness of their saying; moreover, I was surprised that the same conversation kept popping up on different occasions by a variety of people I met. Interestingly, this is different from what I have been taught.
I have been taught that “learning English is the best way to touch the world” for as long as I can remember. In order to touch the world, I worked hard to improve my English even though it was frustrating in a non-English speaking country, Taiwan. The “theory” my parents taught me had always been proved when I met foreigners who were surprised by me, a little Asian girl who could speak some English. By the time I grew up and accumulated diverse travel experiences, I strongly believed the importance of languages.
For example, when I was 6 years old, I was really mad at myself because I could not tell Ariel how beautiful she was in Walt Disney World in Florida. In Avignon, France, I felt I was respected when I used my basic French to speak to Madame de l’hotel. When I showed an enthusiastic Japanese salesman a note written by Kanji (Chinese characters) to describe my need, the relief and happiness on his face was unforgettable. Honestly, I had never thought my native language would be important and powerful until I was reminded by people around me. With the growth and expansion of the Chinese market, the “theory” I learned from my parents might have to change to “learning Mandarin is the best way to touch the world.” Although this thought is still questionable in my mind since I think Mandarin is too complicated to be a commonly used language around the world, I do think having some tactics and preparation might be helpful to students who have the opportunity to deal with Chinese.
Chinese value guan-xi (relationships) more than anything. Treating them as special does not need to cost a large amount of money. You can do this by providing little souvenirs, welcome cards, and warm greetings. At Grand Hyatt Taipei, where I was a summer intern, Chinese tourists received tropical fruits in their rooms with cards that indicated the places of origin of Taiwanese fruits and farm stories. The cards were not expensive but became collectable memories. In addition, since those cards were put only in Chinese tourists’ rooms and written in simplified-Chinese, they felt they had a close relationship with the hotel, which led to higher customer return rates.
Another tip to build these relationships is to remember language barriers and listen with patience. They will have the courage to speak up if you slow down when talking or ask them questions in different ways. I still remember the feeling of panic I had the first day I met my American classmates. Everything was so unfamiliar and everyone talked so fast in English. Though I was excited to meet them I just could not start the conversation myself. Suddenly, a girl asked my name and told me everything she has heard about my country once she knew I was from Taiwan. At that moment, I was no longer nervous but wanted to share everything with her. All of a sudden she became a savior and I found the relationship between us. Have you ever been to an unfamiliar environment without knowing any of the local languages? Put yourself into Chinese tourists’ shoes. If you are trying to listen to them with patience, I can assure you the relationship will be built, slowly but stably.
Understanding Chinese and their culture might be difficult at the beginning. How about learning some easy Mandarin so next time you can talk to shy Chinese travelers and ease their nervousness while you try and listen to them? Remember that “Ni-Hao” means “hello” and “Xie-xie ni” means “thank you.” I am sure you will enjoy their surprised faces when they hear it from you.