When I lived in China I often heard Chinese people claiming that their language is the most difficult in the world and expressing serious doubt that any foreigner could speak it. As is frequently the case with erroneous beliefs in China, the firmness of this delusion led them to refute the evidence of their own eyes and ears, in particular when they heard foreigners speaking Chinese well. I’m definitely not in the “speaking Chinese well” category, not even close. Nonetheless, even I often found that most people are China were happiest when I pretended that I couldn’t understand what they were saying in Chinese and I answered them in English, then they would pretend that they couldn’t understand what I’d said in English and reply in Chinese, and so forth.
Impertinent attempts by myself or other foreigners to actually converse in the impossible language would invariably be met with passive-aggressive hostility or outright mockery, and the better the foreigner was at Chinese the more they could expect to be derided and thwarted. I’ve never experienced anything like it, anywhere in the world. Not even in France. Continue Reading