The other week I was chatting with the co-owner of a western restaurant I regularly frequent (one of those “foreign big-nose puts the business in his Chinese girlfriend/wife’s name” situations), making it kind of a casual language exchange - I spoke in bad Mandarin, she spoke in poor English, giving us both a chance to practice at the same time. She told me she was impressed that I was making some effort to learn Chinese as plenty of foreigners didn’t seem to speak more than the bare essentials. She mentioned one guy, an American who was married to a local woman (with kids) and who’d been here for about 25 years, and he still didn’t speak more than 10 words or phrases of Chinese. “Xie xie,” “Ni hao,” “Zai yi-pin pijoe!” I was floored.
“Bendan huozhe landuo ma?” I asked.
“Lazy!” she replied.
Now, I can be one lazy stupid good-for-nothing sometimes, but this displays a superhuman amount of sloth. How can anyone possibly live in a country for a quarter of century without picking up the language? Even if Chinese is one of the toughest languages in the world - that may be an excuse after a couple of years here, but not after 25! The mind boggles.