I have a soft spot for Bruce, the Chinese real estate agent who helped us find our lane house. He's been chasing me for weeks to give me a Christmas gift, a very uncharacteristic thing for a Chinese real estate agent to do. But Bruce is a very uncharacteristic real estate agent. For a start, he has a thing about Australia, a country he's never visited, giving himself a totally Aussie name, daggy* as it may be, and adopting Australian slang picked up from the young Aussie guys in Shanghai he has befriended. Slang in another language is tricky, though, isn't it? To get the context exactly right? Australians pepper their everyday speech with hundreds of slang phrases, all with varying degrees of profanity, and adjusted subtly to fit the audience.
My first phone conversation with Bruce showed he still had a ways to go in getting the slang right for the situation. It went something like this:
Bruce: Hi there, what sort of apartment are you looking for?
Fiona: Well, we need three bedrooms and we need some kind of outdoor terrace or balcony.
Bruce: Whoah! Are you Aussie??
Fiona: Umm...yeah, I am.
Bruce: Oh yeah! Coz you Aussies love to barbie**, right?!
Fiona: Ummm....yeah. We do. We sure love to.....ah......barbie.
Bruce: Got you! You can barbie and get shit-faced***, right!
Fiona: (trying to remember the last time she could have possibly been shit-faced, and...and....did he really just swear at me??!)....umm.....yeah.....let's find a lane house perfect for that!
When I later meet Bruce in person, bless him, he looks twelve years old and is very short-sighted. He carries a tennis raquet with him everywhere he goes. Clearly, he has never been shit-faced in his life. I mean, what are those Aussie guys teaching him?
*daggy = uncool
**barbie = barbecue
***shit-faced = drunk to the point of semi-consciousness
Anyway, since then, Bruce pops up from time to time, usually to ask how the barbies are working out. I have never explained how inappropriate the use of 'shit-faced' is when describing a family of four, and I feel a little guilty about this failure to disclose, because the next time he says it someone will probably just punch him.
This week he's been desperate to give me a Christmas gift, no doubt something his Aussie mates told him would be good public relations with all of his foreign clients. But because gift-giving, and particularly Christmas gift-giving is unfamiliar ground for Chinese people, there are some very Bruce aspects to the whole process.
It starts with an email in November, out of the blue.
Bruce: I want to send u petit Christmas gift. Can you choose any three of these?
Small notebook in green(bird cage pattan) or blue flower color or Lady Qipao style
Biz card holder (which color)
Cup Matt in blue flower(6 piece) Pepper & salt case on talbe(blue or golden color) Small cosmetic mirror(blue,purple or green) Bird book mark（silver,golden,pink） Cosmetic holder(blue,purple or green) Small golden angel ornament
Rotary candle holder
I suspect Bruce has cleared out his desk drawers and just listed the contents. It's all rather bewildering, and what the hell is a rotary candle holder? I forget all about it for a week or two, until Bruce emails the list again. I reply by text, inadvertently sparking a text conversation 28 messages long lasting over 6 days.
Bruce: Decided yet?
Fiona: Notebook would be lovely. thanks Bruce.
Bruce: Got u with thx. How about yr kids?
Fiona: They're fine, thanks for asking.
Bruce: But what gift fr them?
Fiona: Oh! Happy with anything. Why don't you choose something?
Fiona: OK, how about the bookmark?
Bruce: Hi silver, gold or pinky bird marker?
Fiona: umm.....silver (wondering.....is it a bookmark? or a marker pen?)
(By now, any element of surprise in the gift is totally lost, and I'm losing the will to live. Not only do I have to choose my own piece of Bruce's desk detritus, but I have to choose the colour too.)
Bruce: Got u! so can send to ur home this week with others?
(Bruce appears very fond of saying 'got u!')
Fiona: No worries.
Bruce: Hi can I send to ur home tmr? A notebook, bird marker and rotary silver candle holder?
Fiona: No problem
(Thinking....how the hell did that rotary candle holder get on the list?? I didn't even ask for it!)
By now I have a sinking feeling of impending disappointment. These gifts are going to be major duds, just like the rubbish your bank manager or insurance company sends. And after 28 messages back and forth, any residual surprise factor is totally, utterly destroyed.
The gifts arrived yesterday,carefully wrapped with price stickers prominently displayed, as is Chinese custom, to show exactly how much was spent. So the small notebook, blue, in Lady Qipao Style is quite cute. And the silver bird marker is nice, and really stylish. And the Rotary Candle Holder? I actually like it because of the little silver reindeer on top that spins around when you light the candle. Very Christmasy.
Now I feel like a total heel....Bruce came all the way to our house, with a gift-wrapped rotary candle holder, and I've ungraciously made fun of his Aussie slang and his drawer contents. Shame on me! Bruce, I owe you an apology....to make up for it I'll take you out sometime and get you totally shit-faced. Promise.
Labels: christmas, Shanghai