I am 100% allergy free. There is nothing I can’t (or don’t) eat. This, of course, is a wonderful asset in a city where you’re never quite sure what you’re getting. My darling friend, Belle, on the other hand is plagued with allergies. Her allergy to peanuts takes pride of place amongst her other various ailments. Belle is many things: educated, sophisticated, has an amazing ability to hold her liquor (ta neng he jiu 她能喝酒); but a Chinese scholar she is not.
Belle is not so keen on learning Chinese. She already has a second language and has absolutely no interest in obtaining a third. But after she’d been living in Beijing for almost a year, one thing continued baffled me. OK, so you don’t need to know what ‘bike’ is in Chinese, you don’t need to know what ‘computer’ is in Chinese, however you do need to know what, “I go into anaphylactic shock if I eat peanuts” is in Chinese.
When eating out she did what any other self respecting expat would do in the face of a language she didn’t understand: got her friends to translate, or simply pointed at nuts and said, “no” (bu 不) until she felt the message had sunk in.
Finally she decided it was about time to learn the one phrase that could save her life, “I’m allergic to peanuts” (wo dui hua sheng guo min 我对花生过敏). For those of you who feel that simply stating your allergy isn’t strong enough try, “If I eat peanuts I die” (ru guo wo chi hua sheng wo hui si 如果我吃花生我会死). And if you really want to cover all of your bases say, “Don’t add peanuts” (bu jia hua sheng 不加花生). Another handy phrase, “This dish doesn’t have peanuts, right?” (zhe cai mei you hua sheng, dui ba? 这菜没有花生，对吧?)
Belle and I are yet to encounter any peanut problems in this fair city, but if we do we’ll be prepared. I’m more than pleased to encounter a peanut or ten, but if my dear Belle eats one, well, that’s the end of cocktail hour I’m afraid. Here’s to health, happiness and mei you hua sheng.