Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Proud Gibberish

I was shopping in Walmart the other day with my daughter. We went in to pick up a couple of typical items. In whole, this appeared to amount to a very ordinary trip to the market. While we were navigating through the outskirts of the toy section, we passed by a caucasian woman talking in a rather obstreperous tone to her infant child who happened to be strapped into the seat of the shopping buggy. She was saying over and over again to the child, "nihao". Her manner of speaking to the child reminded me of how one might teach old Polly to ask for a cracker. The memorable thing about this chance encounter was that the woman's tone of voice increased noticeably whenever someone passed by her. She appeared desperate for attention. It was a most ostentatious display. We halted a safe distance away to verify this rather odd behavior. Indeed, she repeated this pattern again several times. My daughter and I looked at each other, shook our heads and made a mental note between ourselves that this woman was clearly a kook, and we then continued on our way.

After we had found what we wanted, we headed to the checkout. I bet you can guess pretty quickly who came up behind us in line just a few moments later. Of course, it was Mama Nutbag from earlier. (Kind of reminds me of a plot line in a bad sitcom.) Now she had us as her captive audience. She immediately began saying to the baby "nihao, nihao", and then she looked up and announced to nobody in particular, "you know, nihao is Japanese for hello". The behavior was so odd, I felt strangely uncomfortable and, frankly, rather embarrassed for her. When I was paying for my goods, she repeated her same bit for the checkout clerk. She proudly announced, "My baby is saying nihao". The clerk, just trying to get his miserable day over with, looks at the child half-heartedly and says, "well, meow to you too", thinking that the child had been playing kitty. The mother, in her snootiest tone, moves closer to Joe-checkout and says "nihao is Japanese for hello sir!". The clerk says, "well, I don't know anything about Japanese, so I'll just say hello and leave it at that". By this point, my daughter and I were bursting with mirthful giggles and had to hastily get the heck out of there before we soiled ourselves.

The moral of the story is to be yourself at all times. If you try to communicate in fancy, presumptuous terms, you can guarantee that you may be puffed up with pride like the peacock, but nobody else will have a clue what you are trying to say, and furthermore, nobody will care. One other sidelight to this story that also strengthens my point, nihao is actually Chinese for hello.