Here’s a vexing situation.
The other day I went to my gal’s birthday party, where all of her uni-classmates were in attendance. So about 15 in total. I had met a few of them before and I know that all of them are fluent English speakers.
Let me repeat that: All of them are fluent English speakers.
Anyway, after a few moments of 100% Mandarin from everyone except me, I was wondering if they would ever start using a little English, just enough to make me feel less alienated. However, it turned out that for almost three hours, the only person who spoke English to me was my girlfriend and the guy right beside me.
I was a little surprised by this. Had they no inkling that I would feel uncomfortable by this?
Sure I know it’s partly my responsibility to bone up on my Mandarin, and to be prepared for social situations exactly like this. However, even if I did know more conversational Mandarin, there’s no way I could keep up with a roomful of native speakers. At the very least, I expected them to be speaking about a 50/50 mix of English and Mandarin.
My girlfriend, too, was surprised. She suggested that they were all too shy to speak any English in front of a native speaker. Right. So they’ve all been learning English since they were in high school just so they could NOT speak any English when there is a western boy in their midst?
I mean, isn’t that the point of learning another language? To at least say a few words to someone who speaks the language in question?
I can understand if we had only been there for a few minutes. But everone knew in advance that I would be there and my Mandarin skills are limited to about 10 sentences and some handy words for survival.
Anyway, I’m puzzled by all of this. Is it my expectations or their lack of social skills that are at work here?
Let me add that I KNOW I should have more Mandarin in my every day life. So telling me that would be a waste of time and an obvious reply. I’m interested in what othe people have done in this situation. It could happen to anyone, whether you’ve been here for a month or a year.