A Conversation with Amy Lin from letslanguage.com
Welcome to the everyday language podcast, how you doing?
In today’s podcast, I’m talking to Amy Lin, who is a brilliant Chinese teacher on italki (disclaimer – I take Amy’s lessons), a creator of great YouTube language videos, plus the maker of LetsLanguage.com.
In today’s conversation, we talk about cultural differences in The US, UK and Japan – and in particular differences in small talk, how to eat noodles and how long we would queue up for food.
Amy: Do you use, “How’s the weather”?
Mark: You can do, like if, you’re, like small talk, if you’re at the bus stop and there’s someone there (uh) you want to talk to them, but you don’t want to be weird, you could just say, “Oh it’s, it’s nice weather isn’t it?” Something like that. (laughing)
Amy: So people actually do use that! Because I know that I’ve heard of it, but personally I’ve never used that, like “The weather is nice today.”
Mark: Yeah you know like, depends, do you speak to people when you’re outside? Like if you’re walking around?
A: No, I’m like a complete introvert.
M: You don’t? No, but then like, it’s one safe way to start speaking to someone you don’t know.
A: But like would you want to speak to someone you don’t know? That’s just, that sounds just dangerous to me.
M: Yeah, but, maybe in America, but, haha.
A: Haha, what about in UK? It’s the same in the UK, isn’t it?
M: Come on, if you’re sitting in the bus stop and there’s like, there’s an old granny, and like, she looks really nice, or like maybe it’s a grandad. You know what it’s like, they’ve got no-one speak to, “Oh its nice weather isn’t it?” And they’ve got all the best stories. And if it’s a girl, you know to speak to a girl, you know, to say something non-threatening, you could say, “Yeah, its nice weather isn’t it?”
A: (Laughing) So, right now you’re in Japan right?
M: I probably wouldn’t do that now, because people here are really, are even worse than UK people at speaking.
A: What do you mean? What do you mean? They are worse? In like,
M: Like in a shop, yeah we can talk about this…like in a shop if you go, you know, if like you go to a convenience store, you can, you know the guy or girl that serves you, you can have, you can say some stuff to them. (Mm) “Oh yeah it’s a nice day isn’t it?” “Yeah, yeah, what you doing? Blah blah, blah”, “You know, don’t work too hard.” And here, its like here it’s nothing. Absolutely nothing. (Really!)
Like even if you say thanks, it’s like, they leave you hanging, it’s like silence …99% of the time.
A: So they, they, just don’t want to talk, or, or what?
M: Yeah it’s cultural here, isn’t it? Like, they just don’t have that interaction, that communication.
A: Culture shock, to you I guess, so how about your life there then? Are you like, like adjusted to it?
M: Yeah, I’m like quite adjusted now, er, well, just recently…
A: Do you like it there?
M: I think so, like I just had like foreigners here will understand what I’m saying (laughing), like people understand.
Like I’ve got some friends here, foreign friends, and they know that, like everyone knows it, like it’s weird, like, the culture is so different, in interactions that.
But (oh, uh, go ahead) I just think it’s fine, like I’m not a Japanese, like I’m…and it’s worse for Japanese people, because they have to live by all these strange and weird rules. Yeah, but they kind of know it’s a bit weird as well.
A: Yeah? Really? Strange weird rules, like what?
M: Oh well, there’s just like pressure to conform, like, be a certain way, em, so as a foreigner you’re not really included in that. You know,
A: Oh, so you don’t have to follow the rules?
M: Oh well, you know, generally, you know, you just do naturally, because… you know you would you try to fit in wherever you are, but obviously, they don’t, because you’re not grown up here… this whole like 100% Japanese thing, is quite a thing here, I heard.
A: Oh, go ahead.
M: Er, you know, like how Japanese are you? Are you 101% Japanese? Or have you got a bit of like, Russian or Mongolian? It’s like ahhh! I don’t know how much it, I don’t, like I don’t know I’m a bit ignorant of it but I’ve heard, that’s a thing.
And then, you know, it’s just there’s ways of doing things which are Japanese, so, however much you try you will never going to do it [like that], as a foreigner.
A: Oh, you don’t think, oh, well based on my experience, I guess your skin is whiter than most Asians so, like, when people talk to you like, do they think you are a foreigner? Or foreigner, as in like, foreigner quote unquote as in non-Japanese? Or do they, or do they think you are Japanese?
M: Er, depends like how, ok… er depends how I’m speaking like if I’m speaking very well that day, then yeah, they might last for a while, before they realise “Oh you’re a foreigner,” er sometimes even before you speak, because I walk different, oh he’s not Japanese, (What!)
Come on you must know that? Like (oh, no, no no) you just walk different, you wear your clothes different, you know.
A: Clothes, yeah, but walk differently too?
M: Yeah, like it’s true, perhaps,
A: Oh, I see…
M: Well how do, how do you eat noodles? Like if you have noodle soup?
A: A bunch of them at once? No!?
M: A bunch of them at once, like (no!) more than one?
A: Like if you er, like if you have a pair of chopsticks and then you grab a bunch of them, then I don’t really roll it up, I know my boyfriend does that, but I don’t I just grab a bunch of them.
M: Yeah, do you slurp? (Slurping sounds)
A: Oh I can’t do that, my boyfriend hates that sound.
M: Can’t do that, he’s banned you. Yeah, fair enough.
A: I don’t do that, it sounds, like before I did not notice that, like my dad made really loud [slurping sounds], next to me, I did not get bothered at all. Until my boyfriend pointed it out. And I was like, ever since he pointed it out, I started to get a tiny bit bothered if someone does that next to me.
M: Yeah, ok, that’s-I mean that’s a, in China, you know, as well as Japan, you’re supposed, you’re supposed to eat noisily. Aren’t you?
A: Are we? I know that this, in Japan it means the food is delicious right?
M: I heard it was in China as well. Like, I was on [an] Air China flight and the guy next to me was so loud. But at the time I was in the British ways of thinking so I was like, “Urgh, rude!” But it’s not rude at all, if you’re from… I don’t think it’s rude at all.
A: I don’t know if it’s rude for Chinese people or not, ‘cos I know my dad eats really loud. And my mum eats ok, I think.
A: Is it a Chinese thing?
M: Well in Japan anyway, you’re supposed to be noisier. (Oh) And then if you have instant noodles, how do you eat them? Like you know the pot noodle thing?
A: Yeah, like the one in a little plastic cup?
M: Yeah like I’ve seen people, like they eat it, they lift up the… like girls especially, they lift up the, packet, the lid, the rip-off thing, then they have it like that, then they eat behind it, because they don’t want to like show their mouth.
A: Ah ok for me I actually take it out of the packet, because the plastic pack is too small for me. I like to add extra water, but that’s only when I’m at home though, I don’t know if you know I’ve never eaten instant ramen outside at all.
Yeah, so if I eat one I have well Maruchan we call the Maruchan or something, cup ramen it’s in a little plastic cup?
A: What I do is I actually take out the noodle and put it in a bowl (ah) yeah, oh that reminds me, um er, wait, wait, what was I going to ask? Yeah, I forgot. Hold on, I want to ask you so since you are in Japan right, have you had those noodles when you were in the UK?
M: Yeah, yeah of course.
A: Are they different? Do they taste different?
M: Yeah, definitely, even the Japanese brands, they’re totally different.
A: Very, very different or just [a little bit]?
M: Er, well yeah, I guess they save…like definitely, they’re nicer in Japan basically.
A: Really? Well so, I went to this Japanese restaurant last weekend, and I don’t know if you can see it clearly? Does it look, legit?
M: Oh right, oh well, maybe, well maybe in a restaurant it is as good. Yeah, that looks good.
A: This one does it look legit? The noodles were very different compared to my regular noodles.
M: Yes, well, yeah it could be, I mean, yeah, I was talking about noodles you buy in the supermarket. From like…
A: Yeah those, those, ones I have a lot, I have different kinds too just because I want to try different kinds, so…
M: Yeah, I think they can probably import, like, proper ingredients, (for the what sorry?) like, for the restaurants, I guess they get nice stuff, nice ingredients.
A: Uh huh, we recently, no, not here but in New York they recently opened a Japanese noodle restaurant and people had to wait in a line to get in there.
M: Would you do that?
M: Would, would you do that? How long would you queue up for food?
A: Zero, no like, if it, if it…ha
M: You wouldn’t? Ok like, I mean that’s a Japanese thing, people love to queue up for food here.
A: Why??? Like if I’m going out with my friends then maybe the longest we would wait is probably, like a half hour that’s it. But otherwise…
M: Like 2 hours would be too much? (Oh!) Like 4 hours?
A: No, I’m not going to do that. 2 hours? People do that?
M: Even if it’s really, really tasty?
A: Is, am I going to it just once? Or am I going to it often?
M: Don’t know like it would just be, ‘cos if it’s super-popular people love to, I think they like to say I’ve been to this place, that’s really nice (uh huh) and you know, they might queue up for hours and hours to get in.
A: Oh my! If it’s a once in a lifetime thing and then my friends really, really wanted then maybe I’d wait (right) but I think the longest I’d wait is probably maybe one hour that’s it. (Ok)
Would you wait?
M: No I would like, oh this is stupid, I’m going somewhere else, but that’s just me ‘cos I’m impatient.
A: What about, what about your wife? You don’t sound impatient at all though that’s the funny thing, you sound like a super-patient person to me
M: I don’t know, you should ask my wife. Haha.
A: And you worked as a nurse before right? In the UK?
M: Yeah, yeah, like so yeah, you have to, you have to be like that.
A: You have to be patient!
M: You have to pretend to be patient, and then as soon as you can get away and then start f-ing and blinding and start swear- and start letting out the stea-, no, no I am a really patient person. Totally.
A: So how was it? How your pretending was, was it successful?
M: Yeah, ask all my patients, like they’re really happy.
A: Yeah, well, I wouldn’t wait, but what about your wife? Would she wait? For hours?
M: I’m not sure, she might be tempted to I think. Er. (Oh wow) I can ask her, I’ll ask her.
A: What would you do though? In that, 2 to 4 hours?
M: In that 2 to 4 hour gap! I’ll go and I’ll say, “I’m going, see you later,” I’ll come back when, I’m going somewhere else, and have a walk. And my son would definitely not wait for longer than 10 minutes.
A: Ah I see, well you know when you have two very different cultures how are you guys going to bring up up your son? Like which concept do you teach?
M: Yeah, I mean we’re still trying to work that out, but, but I like I said before, I think there’s a game and if you’re Japanese it’s really serious, you know, got to be in the game, like got to do things 100% Japanese (uh huh) and then, you know, I used to think I had to try and fit in, and now I don’t think, I think I fit in to make it comfortable, like I don’t want to be like, you know, the odd one out but I don’t try and fit in very hard.
So like I was saying, my son like, you know, don’t get too caught up in this weird game because there’s a lot of other ways of living out there, in the world (uh mm) so you don’t need to, and what I mean by that is, like, you see a lot of kids getting stressed and bullying each other, or committing suicide (yeah), and I want to make sure he’s not got that in his mind, because, I think yeah, from my work as a mental health nurse you’ve got to look beyond immediate surroundings and there’s other things which matter or are important, and can make you happy as well.
A: Well, for me at least, even though the look might, people might not think that you guys are interracial but I know that it is right, because you grew up in the UK and then your wife, what about your wife? How does she feel about, I guess, like quote unquote western ideas?
M: Nah she’s ok, she’s quite liberal, er, I mean yeah she teaches politics, European politics, she lived abroad, like this weekend we just met a lot of people, er, Japanese who lived abroad and like one guy was saying, “yeah it’s so weird here.” (ha)
You know he, it was the first time, I read it a lot on the internet, like on blogs and stuff but it was the first time a Japanese person said it to me. Like, “it’s so weird.”
Ha and it was like, ok fair enough, I thought that was amazing because sometimes when you read it on the internet it doesn’t seem real, (yeah, right, uh huh) but then he was actually saying it to me. Like, “I didn’t want to come back, it’s just too, too pressure, too much pressure and stuff.”
A: Uh huh, really, wow.
M: And one of, my Japanese teacher he says that, like he’s in the US now. (Oh really) yeah he says that as well.
A: My Korean teacher he also dislikes some Korean culture, but right now he is living in Korea and I’m like how do you deal with that? Because he’s so used to the American culture and then he dislikes so many Korean culture stuffs so it’s like, I don’t know he handles that.
M: Yeah, I mean, it’s freedom or something isn’t it?
A: Yeah, especially like, at work you have to be, you have to be, like obedient to people who are quote unquote older than you. Even if it’s just your age.
That’s it for today’s podcast. If you have anything you want to say about cultural differences or anything else we talked about, please leave a comment in the comments section below. Happy studying 🙂
Phrases and Vocabulary
Blah blah blah – used to mean “and other words that mean very little”
introvert – a person who is shy or prefers to refrain from speaking in public situations
granny – shortened form of grandma, grandmother, can also be nanny or nan
Does it look, legit? – Does it look legitimate?; Does it look good?; Does it look authentic?; Does it look OK?
Does this iphone look legit? Or is a fake? Meaning – Is this iphone authentic?
Is your friend legit? Meaning – Is your friend for real? Or Is your friend serious?
*quote unquote – The paired words which precede and follow a quotation, as a kind of punctuation, orally representing the words for punctuation marks ” … ”
*definition from the urban dictionary
What do you think of quote unquote the pen pineapple apple pen song?
obedient – someone that complies to requests or orders, someone that submits to authority.
uh huh – 1) A sound/utterance that shows you are in agreement with what someone just said. 2) A sound/utterance that shows you are listening and understand what is being said.
Bob (husband): I went to work today.
Jane (wife): Uh huh,
Bob: I hate the boss.
Jane: Uh huh,
Bob: I hate the job.
Jane: Uh huh.
Bob: I quite the stupid job.
Jane: You WWWHAT!
Episode 15: Amy interviews me about teaching
Episode 16: Talking about pregnancy with Amy