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First Meal Alone

It’s strange, but the first meal I had to order alone was on the fourth day in China. I don’t know how I avoided it so long. Having had a few catastrophes interacting with people at the supermarket, I was hesitant to order food from a place I didn’t know where the best I could do was point at something. I am embarrassed to admit it, but my first foray into ordering on my own in a restaurant was at a KFC. To be fair, KFC is HUGE around here, and they are as prevalent as Starbucks or McDonald’s. The menu is different, but similar, tweaked for the Chinese appetite. There was a menu on the counter, and all I had to do was point. She didn’t even bother to ask me what kind of soft drink I wanted. It was purely a matter of pointing, and clearly she had done this with foreigners before, because she knew how to ask me if I wanted it for there or to go, and if I wanted to make a meal with fries and a coke. I sheepishly took my food to a table, and started to dig in when the woman next to me started talking to me in English. She said she did contracts work with foreign companies and asked me if I always had lunch at KFC. I told her this was my first time ordering alone, my first time at the KFC, and that I’d been there 4 days out of 3 months. She offered me encouragement and said many people know a little English and that I should try asking them to speak in English. I told her that I’m in China and I should speak their language and that I felt bad for not knowing any of it but that it was challenging with all the pronunciation and tones. I told her that I was picking up the characters faster.

I’d like to think I’m adventurous, and that I’m willing to just try stuff, but at the same time, this inability to communicate at any level with people is really embarassing and I’m finding myself trying to avoid the embarassment. The people are all very helpful, which only makes my embarassment worse; I’m in their country, I should be able to speak in their language. And yet I haven’t even mastered “thank you.” I can’t tell if it’s pronounced tsi-tsi, or tchi-tchi, or she-she, and every time I get into trying, I go back and forth with them saying it correctly, me trying to repeat it, and them indicating that I screwed it up somehow and repeating it again. It feels hopeless.

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