This past weekend, I had a chance to visit one of the purveyors of global goodwill and unity. Yes, I finally felt well enough to go outside and found myself in line at a busy Starbucks. As I waited to order a cup of tea, I noticed the young couple behind me. I say couple, but they may have been siblings, friends, or husband and wife – I have no idea, but there were two of them. Unlike myself, they were fashionably dressed and debating what to order. By the time I got to the register, I was fairly certain they were from Israel, but I’ve seen this kind of thing happen with people from all over the world.
As I ordered and paid for my beverage speaking the little Chinese I know, the young woman in line asked me if I speak English. “Yes,” I replied. She then asked if I could help her order. I asked what she wanted and she told me a mocha. Having overheard, the man at the register asked her in English, “Mocha – what size?” Our intrepid traveler looked to me with beseeching eyes and asked, “What did he say?” I pointed to the sample cups and asked what size she wanted. She indicated the medium one that Starbucks quaintly calls a grande. Not missing a beat, the employee said, “Grande mocha.” Again, the young woman looked to me for interpretation. I “translated” for her, “A grande mocha.” She nodded her agreement with the order. Looking at the pair in line, the employee went for gold by asking, “Just one?” Again, all eyes turned to me. “Anything else?” I asked. The young woman said no and her order was made and paid for.
This comedy of expectations on the international stage of human communication never fails to make me chuckle. I’ve seen this play out many times in China, but also in numerous other countries. Faced with the unknown, it is easy for a traveler to latch onto their own expectations of misunderstanding and completely miss the actual words coming out of a person’s mouth. For the one confused, I know it can be frustrating, but hopefully they take it in stride. For the rest of us, it is a chance for a good laugh over a nice hot mocha. Whatever size you please.
Photo: Dawn Endico (Flickr)