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The Coffee Incident

Coffee  and Cream

There are many things similar in Chinese and American cultures. As well as known differences. As an example, Chinese are known for drinking tea while Americans have their coffee. As I learn about some of the Chinese customs Tai observes, she too will discover some of the American customs I practice. Going through these times of discovery, it is our ability to laugh at the misguided perceptions we thought we knew.

Tai is not a coffee drinker. She is a tea drinker. She has five or six different teas on hand. I was never a big hot tea drinker. Our recent trip to Wal-Mart to buy clothes and a few grocery items set up the beginning of “the coffee incident.” The other day while in Walmart I was browsing around in the grocery area. Walmart here is set up similar to the Wal-Marts back home. Instead of the grocery section being on the left or right side of the store. The one here in Changchun the grocery area is in the back. I wanted to buy coffee for I was desperately missing my morning java. But the thought of drinking Chinese java and wondering if it tastes anything like it does in America had my curiosity up. When I got to the area of for brewed java there was not a large selection. I needed to buy instant coffee, which I’m not a big fan. But Tai did not own a maker and what I did like is we boil water every morning in pitcher that specifically design to boil water. So it would not be an inconvenience making instant every morning. I must see about getting a coffee maker once I can figure where we can put it.

Nescafe coffeeSo the area was mostly stocked with Chinese brands that I could not read. There consisted mainly of instant with only a couple choices for brewed. I found some packets of single serve Nescafe, which I was familiar with that brand name. There weren’t any of the single serve bags available like you have with some teas.  As I make my selection of Nescafe, Tai is looking at something on the bottom shelf.  She has this big jar of Nestle coffee creamer in her hand. I couldn’t get her to understand what she had was not what she thought it was. So I quickly send her a text so she can translate with one click on her phone, letting her know she is looking at just creamer. I continue to inform her I do not use creamer in my coffee because I drink it black. However, she was very insistent on getting it.  This is when communication gets a little frustrating.  All this is still pretty new to us. We are working on the communication between us. Even with text messages there can be issues. Sometimes the phones’ translations get a little skewed and what I am hoping or expecting to tell her might translate into something different.  There’s been a few times the texts she sent me the translation was off. However, I have been able to figure them out. Tai was not responding to me as my verbal “no I do not want or need.”  To no avail, I was unable to get through to Tai. I gave in and let her get the coffee creamer thinking maybe she will use it in her tea or something.

The next morning at breakfast I get my mug ready for a morning treat. I’ve gone almost two weeks without my morning fix. Tai has boiled the water and hands me the creamer.  I am gesturing that no thanks I do not use.  And I reach and get one of my Nescafe packets.  She is saying something like she doesn’t understand why I am not user the creamer.  I show her my packet and said “I use this… I use this.”  The next thing I see is Tai adding the creamer to her tall empty glass and pouring hot water over it. I am stun and ask her, “Yuck, what are you doing with an entire glass of creamer?”  She is trying to tell me the jar of creamer was cheaper than the coffee packets. What?! I am not getting it.  Interestingly, over the next two days she ends up drinking the glass of creamer.  It literally took her two days to drink it all. Each time I am reminding her how nasty that must taste.

After two days, it all finally comes together and the realization of what has been happening.  I can be a bit slow at times figuring things out. Again, she offers me the creamer at breakfast.  I am letting her know through text translation that it is an additive to coffee some people like to use as a flavor. I show her the instructions on the back of the jar which is in Chinese. And you could see this light bulb go off in her head.  “Ahhhh…”, she says and starts to laugh. Tai thought the jar of creamer said creamier coffee.  She thought it was Nescafe with the cream already added .  She did not realize it was only creamer.  She thought the large jar of creamer was a better value for the price because she felt, that for the cost, I would have more cups to drink from the jar as opposed to the packets.  She was so embarrassed but laughing her butt off at the same time.  She goes, “this is not coffee, is it?…,” I respond, “no honey it is not. It is an additive for flavoring.” Again, lots of laughter…

This is one the obstacles we face.  Different cultures, different language. Simple little things.  One little translation error can change so much.  It is good we can laugh at our errors.  We know and understand these are things we will have to handle along the way.  There have been times when interpretation made it a bit difficult to get a point across. 

Tai has never been to the Walmart here.  She never really had a reason to go.  Plus, it is not in walking distance for her. She was amazed at the cheaper prices on clothes and some other items. We will go again.  Blending western and eastern cultures.  Every little story is a memory.  Together, she and I explore a new world.  No limits, just adventures in love.

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