On my first walk around Mainland China, I should have hung this apologetic public notice on a placard around my neck:
As a new pedestrian in China, I initially looked for official painted crosswalks, waited for the biggest gap in traffic I could see (because no one yielded voluntarily), and then ran across the road at an unpredictably jerky fast-slow pace. A practice no other road-users anticipated and which caused a lot of confusion and honking.
Fortunately, with a little observation, I soon got the knack of stepping out into the traffic-filled roadways, walking at a steady pace, and marveling as the cars predicted my path and opened gaps for me.
Why am I flashing-back to a time I should have notified others of my ‘novice’ status? It’s the fault of this cartoon man’s guilty, sweaty, stupid grin:
I pass this ‘new driver’ notice daily in the rear window of a white station wagon here in Hong Kong. He reminds me of my own red-faced — ‘sorry I didn’t realize…!’ — moments.
Thinking back, I can recall several times when a “sorry, I’m new here” notice could have been helpful. Here is but a small sample:
- Being ‘over-friendly’ during my first weeks of English life and attempting far too much eye-contact with neighbors and semi-strangers.
- Assuming that check-out clerks would bag my groceries in Holland.
- Thinking that any Hong Kong Island ‘red’ taxi would happily drive me to the middle of nowhere in the ‘New Territories.’
What about you? What mistakes have you made as a novice expat that could have been softened by an “I’m new to this” notice?
Notes: For those who are hooked on Chinese, I translated the ‘new driver’ sticker into both Cantonese and Mandarin:
新手駕駛: Novice driver (In Cantonese: san1 sau2 gaa3 sai.2 In simplified characters and Mandarin: 新手驾驶, xīn shŏu jià shĭ)
请多包涵: Please bear with me/I feel apologetic! (In Cantonese: cing2 do1 baau1 haam4. In simplified characters and Mandarin: 请多包涵, qĭng duō bāo hán)