An Antidote to Chinglish

We’ve all seen those funny photos of signs and labels written by someone whose first language is not English. I have a personal collection myself from my time in China as do other members of my family and we love to share them among ourselves when we’ve got a new one.

What I don’t think has been properly represented in the English sphere are all the times that we English-speaking people figuratively face-plant in languages we are attempting to learn.

And so, to do my part to right this inequity, here are my top language faux pas, all when speaking Chinese.

Example 1

What I meant to say: “Hi, I’m a teacher!”

What I actually said (multiple times over the years, apparently!): “Hi, I’m a mouse!”

The fact that I was nervous and relatively quiet spoken when saying this didn’t help to illuminate my mispronunciation. When it was finally pointed out to me, my friend began by saying, ‘You are a mouse. But what you need to say here is teacher.’

Example 2

What I meant to say: “I’ll come back at a time convenient to you.”

What I actually said: “I’ll come back when you’re in the bathroom.”

Turns out the phrase “when you’re convenient” is also the idiomatic expression in Mandarin for, ahem, answering the call of nature.

Example 3

What I meant to say: “Let me show you this short video on my tablet!”

What I actually said (again, for years!): “Let me show you this pornographic film on my tablet!”

Yeah, doesn’t that explain the weird looks I’ve been getting!


Got a language faux pas of your own? Do share! Don’t leave me hangin’!

Millennial Musings: Why Do Cold Countries Love Ice Cream?


My personalized Magnum, with raspberries, coconut flakes, and cinnamon almonds. Yum!

As an Australian, I have always equated ice cream with summer. There’s nothing better than eating an ice cold Magnum in forty degree heat (Celsius, that is). And so when I would hear about people eating ice cream in the dead of winter (such as during the Ice Festival in Harbin, China) I would shudder at the thought. How could you eat something that cold when it’s below the temperature of your ice cream outside?

The purpose of ice creams after all, in my mind, was to cool you down. And wasn’t that the last thing on your mind in sub-zero?

But I never gave the subject too much thought until my recent visit to Helsinki, Finland.

It all started when I came across this store…

Magnum Helsinki store welcome poster.

Yup, there’s an actual shop in Helsinki where you can go inside and watch them make a Magnum to your specifications. You say what type of chocolate your Magnum is dipped into (white, milk, or dark) and then choose three toppings from the sixteen options. After that you choose the type of chocolate that is drizzled over it and then you’re given the ice cream right there and then in a little tray to enjoy. You can see my personal creation at the beginning of this post.

As much as I loved so many things about my time in Helsinki, this was one of the highlights of my trip. I’ve been a Magnum tragic for so long that to actually make my own blew my mind.

Helsinki isn’t the only place where you can find one of these stores. Search for “Magnum Pleasure Store” in your country and see what comes up. (Sounds dodgy, I know, but Google tells me that’s what they’re called.)

Anyway, allow me to return to the point of this post. A little later in my visit to Helsinki (while I was still dreaming of the custom Magnum experience) I got talking with an American visitor and she described the Finns as “obsessed with ice cream.” Which got us talking about why it was that cold countries seemed to love ice cream so much when we always equated it with hot countries.

It took our Millennial brains a little while to come around to the perfectly logical conclusion.

Ice cream was a thing long before refrigerators. And in pre-refrigerator times the only place you could have an ice cream was in a cold country in the dead of winter.

Yeah, duh. Took me an embarrassingly long time to realise that, but then I do come from Australia and have only seen snow a couple of times in my whole life, so cut me some slack. 🙂

Once my brain clicked into that gear, I suddenly remembered reading one of the Little House on the Prairie books (I think it was in one of those, 1880’s Girl will correct me if I’m wrong) where she was snowed in and she was able to open a window, scoop up some snow, and make ice cream by hand. Ah, those were the days. What would Laura Ingalls Wilder have made of a Magnum Pleasure Store?

So it turns out that ice cream was not invented to cool down those of us who live in the baking heat (who knew?) but have simply come to fill that role thanks to the advent of refrigeration. Cold countries were on to the creamy goodness long before we desert dwellers were. (Or should that be dessert dwellers, as I could happily live in ice cream land. Couldn’t you?)

Millennial Musings: Do Phones Still Go Ring Ring?

Recently I had the pleasure of sitting near a very talkative 6-year-old during a long train journey. She wasn’t talking to me, thankfully. (Due to health, I don’t have the stamina to maintain a young child’s conversation level for more five minutes at a time. From six minutes onward I start looking out for any family member who can take over for me while I have a little lie down and a half hour of quiet.) She was chatting very happily to a teenager she had made friends with in the next row. They shared a window and so were conversing through the little gap between glass and seat.

One of the first things that occurred to me was how difficult it is to keep a child’s attention when in a fast-moving train, especially a child you have only just met. The usual stand-by game my grandmother always employed during times of tedium, I Spy, is completely useless in a speeding train. “I spy something beginning with–oh, never mind, we’ve passed it already.”

Thankfully the little girl I was eavesdropping on was a self-starter in the conversation topic department. She told personal details, stories, and so forth, as well as peppering the conversation with questions such as “What’s your name?” which was followed by an endearingly honest admission by the little girl that she wouldn’t remember the name in question and would just substitute one she found easier to recall.

The girl herself had bright, dancing blue eyes and a true “shock” of short red hair which was thick and curly and looked unlikely to be tamed for years to come. She was accompanied by a patient father who took advantage of the girl’s conversation with someone other than himself to get in a few games of Candy Crush on his smart phone while he had the time. Her other companion was a small brown and yellow stuffed toy dog, whose name seemed to continually change depending on the girl’s mood at the time (Spot, Gruff, Robbie, Squeal-something).

The dog’s usage also changed.

About halfway through the conversation, the little girl’s dog suddenly became a smart phone. “Excuse me,” she said to the girl in the next row mid-conversation, “I have to text. I have to work on my phone now but I can still talk to you while I do it.” And away she went pushing imaginary buttons on the dog’s fluffy little tummy as she continued her conversation with a teenager who had (ironically) never looked at her phone once in the entire time I’d been watching them.

A moment later, her texting presumably finished, she held up her dog and “took a picture” of the girl she was talking to and then verbally wondered who she could send the photo too. While she was busy with that, her “boyfriend” messaged her and she had to take care of further texting while the conversation continued.

I can only assume that the little girl has a teenage sister whom she has studied closely (as all children do) and was doing a perfect imitation of her.

I found the whole act fascinating. I have of course watched many children pretend to use telephones. My brother in his formative years used the dismembered tail of a wooden crocodile toy as a mobile phone. He also used to call bananas “hello hellos” because when distributing the fruit in question my mother would hold the banana up to her ear and say, “Hello, hello? Who is it? Oh! It’s for you!” and hand it to my brother. It must have been an earth-shattering day when he discovered she had been practicing on his credulous simplicity and that the signal strength of the banana is virtually nil.

So, as I say, children pretending to have phones is not new. But I had never seen a child imagine up a smart phone with such detail.

And yet, what really caught my attention, was that when her stuffed-dog-come-smart-phone rang, the little girl vocalized it as, “Ring, ring!”

It made me wonder when in the child’s living memory she would have come across a phone that went ring ring. Do mobile phones nowadays make that sound? And if they don’t (which I would have said they didn’t), what form of onomatopoeia will the next generation use to describe the actual noises our phones make? Brr brr when on silent? The shrill bing when receiving an sms?

Perhaps ring ring is becoming one of those sounds that we just use even though we know it’s nothing like the sound we’re trying to reproduce. After all, smart phone rings now are so numerous and melodic that there really isn’t a word we could form to properly do them justice.