“Chinese doesn’t have any French,” I stated purposefully. Echo and I traced Furong Lake as we made our way back to the dorms. She’d just finished helping me unfreeze (or, in Chinese, un-ice) my mysteriously frozen student card.
“Chinese doesn’t have any grammar.”
“That’s what I said.”
“No. You switched the characters. Thank goodness Chinese is my first language,” Echo proclaimed emphatically.
I found this sentiment strange. I’ve always considered English, not Chinese, to be the language that everyone struggles to learn, and fortunate that I won’t have to toil fruitlessly for years in order to understand a basic waiver. The state of our global society today, however, gives Echo’s proclamation even more significance: not only is Chinese harder than a frozen diamond, but it is increasingly becoming the vogue language pursued out of necessity. I learned about the difference between soft and hard power in a freshman year political science course, and I staunchly believe that language is the most significant and scarily inconspicuous form of soft power- even if you can’t get people to agree with you, you can get them to think like you. When I was in 2nd grade, Linda Katirji (a 4th grader) conducted a survey of the entire primary school, asking, “What is the most important technology?” and I was the only one who answered (or misunderstood, possibly) the question, answering ‘Language,’ while other kids were giving rational answers like ‘Cars’ and ‘Electric Toothbrushes.’ An alteration in the stratum of significant languages signals a very important shift in the balance of power. You tailor your thoughts to suit the culture with the means to affect you most, for the sake of efficient communication. Economics shift language and politics, and right now, China has a first rate economy.
While I still can’t speak fluently, I’m getting better about tailoring my behavior to coincide with Chinese culture. Oddly enough, Chinese culture and etiquette almost suit me better than their American counterparts. For example, today, Echo corrected me about my habit of thanking people excessively. I’m always worried that people don’t know how much I value them using their time and effort to help me, but in China, it’s practically offensive to thank people- it means you don’t think you’re close enough to assume the other person would want to help you. I don’t have to worry about people knowing I’m grateful.
“We’re friends. Don’t say thank you,” Echo insisted after helping me put money on my newly unfrozen card.
“Right, thanks, sorry.”
“We’ll work on it.”
“I appreciate that you understand,” I