Before I moved to China, I definitely wasn’t taking my Chinese classes seriously. I was a second semester senior, crushing my “intensive” senior curriculum, and working out 3 hours every day since the only other option was sleeping. Why the hell would I spend the best months of my life trapped in the library with all the freshmeat? Everyone around me continued to assure me as well, saying,
“Everyone in China speaks English. They have to.”
Because why wouldn’t they right? America is the greatest nation in the world! We have all the power and the guns. America, fuck yeah. Live free or die. We are God’s greatest gift to the world and everyone justs needs to accept that already….
Or we’ll crush you with our guns, our power, and our English.
But as soon as I hit the ground, everything just became a blur. Every Chinese character looked vaguely like the numerical pound sign (#) and people were rushing me out of the terminal like salmon fighting against the current. I stood there helplessly with my 3 pieces of luggage, yoga mat, and rucksack holding onto my international phone with a death grip. It was my only connection to the English-speaking world outside of the terminal.
As a former English major, decorated debater, and self-proclaimed motivational speaker, the fact that I couldn’t communicate with anyone for months was devastating. Obviously, I have really important opinions that need to be shared immediately, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. That’s why I got a Twitter account.
And it’s this type of helplessness that immigrants feel every single day in America; yet, we feel no sympathy and continue to criticize and demonize their culture.
When will people stop denying that we’re a nation of immigrants? If you don’t believe me, GOOGLE it. Or pick up a book if you’re old school like that. Because unless you’re of Native American decent, at one point in history YOUR family was fresh off a boat, scared, and scrambling to establish a life in a foreign country WHILE speaking your native tongue. Mind blown, for sho’.
Speak English, this is America. Why don’t you assimilate to OUR culture and OUR ways? Get a mortgage you can’t afford. Buy an Iphone 5 today and you should have started saving for the iPhone 6 yesterday. Learn a third language because once you’re stateside, you automatically forfeit any excuse not to be perfectly fluent in one of the hardest languages in the world!
Oh, and ditch the accent. That shit ain’t cute.
But that’s not how we do it in the People’s Republic. In Beijing, the average ex-pat speaks 2-4 languages… in addition to Chinese. Ex-pats often own their own companies, are highly educated, and are acting as the change they hope to see in the world. We recognize that business abroad is a lot like a family unit. To succeed in the wild wild east you need “guanxi,” or relationships, which will help your business move up in the world. Without guanxi, you will fail. Period. So why not increase your opportunities to develop guanxi with multiple countries in their native tongue?
Point is: being unilingual cripples you abroad. It traps you in a niche.
Guanxi has been king in China for thousands of years and it will continue to be king as far as we can tell down in the trenches. However, when anything changes, we immediately adjust, adapt, and advance at the drop of a hat. Some of us are Americans; others are European or African. There are Latin Americans, Australians, Middle Easterners, and every other demographic you can think of. But we are all part of the ex-pat family and WE would never dare say:
Speak English. This is China.
It’s time to abandon this useless and stubborn idea that America is this way, with this God, in this language. Millennials are educated enough to see that globalization is inevitable and minorities will be the deciding force in elections in the near future. So everyone just needs to get over it. Let go of your fear of the other. People need to get off their high horse and march with the beat that is inevitably in the horizon; a beat that blends all types of instruments together beyond any point of distinction. It’s time for soloists to get over themselves.
This is why I stand with Coca-Cola.
Not the beverage (I prefer my whiskey neat), but their message. Coca-Cola’s message was meant to be inclusive; that’s it. Stop being obnoxious about it.
Speak Whatever You Want. This is America.