When you happen to be an American woman married to a Chinese man, people make certain assumptions – and sometimes they get it totally wrong. Here are three things people wrongly assume I learned from my Chinese husband.
#1: Mandarin Chinese
Whenever folks in China hear me utter a few words in the language of the land – and also discover I’m married to one of their own – they frequently assume my husband was also the primary individual who taught me Mandarin.
While my husband did school me in a multitude of useful phrases and expressions in Mandarin Chinese, he’s can’t take credit for my basic fluency. By the time we met each other, we could easily converse in English and Chinese about your average everyday topics (thanks to two incredible tutors I had in China). It’s a tradition that still continues to this day.
Personally, I’ve also experienced firsthand just how difficult, if not impossible, it is to turn your lover into your language tutor (see Why It’s a Really Bad Idea to Teach Your Spouse Your Language). I’ve also discovered there’s a curious relationship between the language you use with someone when you’re falling in love and the language (or languages) you choose to communicate in (see The Relationship Between Language and Falling in Love).
While I’ve yet to meet a single couple where one person taught the other their language, I stand by what I wrote before: “…if you insist that spouses should teach each other a language, then I suggest sticking only to the most universal language of all – love.”
#2: How to Use Chopsticks
I wouldn’t call myself the most accomplished person when it comes to holding chopsticks. In fact, I’m pretty sure that my technique looks clumsy at times. I tend to hold mine in the middle, more novice than expert.
Still, since I eat almost every meal with the eating utensil of choice in China – including at parties and social gatherings – it’s not uncommon for a new friend or acquaintance to come to a simple conclusion after observing me. That my Chinese husband must have shown me how to use them.
Except, they’d be wrong on that count too.
I’ve used chopsticks ever since I was a teen, a time when my sister and mother were both fond of Chinese cuisine and introduced me to many new dishes, along with the preferred utensils in China. We always kept a stash of bamboo chopsticks along with our cutlery, ready for whenever we happened to dine on Chinese food for dinner. It was my closest family who observed my first blunders with chopsticks.
Plus, I lived over two years in China before Jun and I started dating – two years where I was expected to use chopsticks in almost every restaurant, stall and dive I ever dined in. Trust me, when you’re hungry you figure out pretty fast what it takes to down a meal with these utensils. 😉
#3: Tai Chi Chuan
When Jun and I used to live in America, practicing a little Tai Chi was one of my favorite relaxation habits. My technique was even uglier than the way I hold chopsticks; some of my old Tai Chi teachers would surely have cringed if they saw me. But it was fun nevertheless and a wonderful way to alleviate the worries of the moment.
However, when my fellow Americans learned I could do some Tai Chi, people automatically assumed there was only one person responsible – my Chinese husband.
While there are many things I have learned from Jun when it comes to Chinese culture, Tai Chi isn’t one of them. I actually studied with teachers in America and China (including a retiree of the People’s Liberation Army who would only instruct me at the crack of dawn).
And why should my husband have to be my teacher? The idea that everyone Chinese knows martial arts and related practices (such as Tai Chi) is an old stereotype that dies hard.
Still, I’m glad that my love of Tai Chi isn’t lost on Jun. He’s actually learning some moves (thankfully, not from me because my form is terrible!) – and someday, I’m sure we’ll practice together. 😉