Friday, May 17, 2013

"You're fat!" Overheard at a Chinese Primary School

With five months down as an English teacher in China, I have heard so many things that have left me shaking my head and/or laughing out out.  Today, I was sitting at my desk in the office and I happened to glance over at a dialogue on a Chinese grade three English teacher's computer.  After noticing this, I decided that this post was necessary:

A: Who's that boy?
B: Which boy?
A: That fat boy.
B: He's the new boy. His name is Billy.
A: Look at him!

This obviously wouldn't work in the United States or probably anywhere that isn't China.  With a western mindset I read it as, "Hey, look at that fat kid. I heard he is new. Let's stare at Billy!"

This isn't the teacher's intention as she is clearly just trying to get the kids to be able to describe people. This also isn't the first time I encountered a Chinese person calling someone fat without somehow being offensive.  Once I was teaching a lesson about hobbies where the students were required to write a short paper about what they like doing.  I was pacing the classroom and looking over everyone's shoulder, just like I (and you) hated when I was younger and in elementary school, when a I asked a boy what his hobby is because his paper was blank.  He answered something like, "My hobby is playing footba-"  when the girl next to him cut him off and said, "No, his hobby is eating....because he is FAT!" The boy didn't get upset for some reason and I tried to kind of ignore it until she made sure that I heard her by saying it again and encouraging the boy to write it down.

Another example is when once I tried telling a teacher that the children in China seem to be in much better shape than most in the United States.  She didn't really believe me, probably because the amount of western advertising that is around in additions to the actors/actresses in the English movies she watches.  Anyway, she said something like "Oh, no...I think some of the boys have very big stomachs in my class.  They are fat." BOOM! They always have to throw the bomb in at the end!

The forth example of the Chinese accidentally using really direct statements was  without the word "fat" in the sentence.  It happened when I just tested a class and one boy did really poorly.  Since I was new at the time and didn't know the students' abilities, I wanted to make sure his English was really that bad and wanted to ask in case he just needed another try.  After asking, the teacher, who assists me in the classroom, nicely informed me that, "he is stupid."  I tried really hard not to laugh but this time I couldn't hold it in and had to tell her what she actually was saying to me.  She too had a laugh and we bring it up from time to time.

Lastly, and just the other day, I was laughing with this teachers who has two completely different classes,  one is really quiet and shy, while the other is really crazy and participates a bit too much sometimes.  After saying this she goes (about the crazy class), "They aren't so good at English....They aren't good at music, P.E., art, math, or really any class."  She did later go on to say that some of the students in the class are some of the top students in the school but when she talked about the class as a whole it was pretty funny and a little bit sad.

They mostly say these things because "by the book English" sometimes doesn't work out so well when you are having a conversation with a native speaker.  This is where Michelle and I come in to make sure they don't get fired for calling an English speaking person fat or stupid unless they actually mean it.

Update 05/19/2013:

While looking at some pictures of Michelle and I, our Chinese friend looked at a picture from last year and says, "You were fat!"