Comprehension – A Moving Target in Hong Kong

This is my week to be reminded multiple times that I am not as knowledgeable as I think I am.

Last night, I ordered Take-Away from a local restaurant. I called ahead of time to insure the order would be ready when I came to pick it up. At first the person who answered the phone assumed I wanted delivery and told me twice that I was calling the wrong number for delivery.

I finally convinced her that I wanted to pick the order up. The rest of the conversation went something like this:

She: “What would you like to order?”

Me: reading off the menu, “A full rack of ribs and a plain Caesar salad.”

She: “You want fuh rack ah ribs?”

Me: “Yes, I want a full rack of ribs plus a plain Caesar salad with dressing on the side and please substitute cole slaw for the fries.”

She: “That’s fuh rack of ribs with coh slaw not french fries and a caesar salad with dressing on the side.”

Me: “Correct. When can I pick the order up?”

She: “In 20 minutes.”

Me: “Thank you. Goodbye

She: “gubye

Twenty minutes later I arrived at the restaurant and that’s when the fun started.

As I went to the pick-up station, I noticed three bags of food. I asked which one was mine and how much was the bill? The cashier handed me an invoice for HK$765. Now, the ribs here are quite good but not that good so I pointed out that ribs and salad could not cost $765.

She replied, “That’s fuh orders of ribs and one salad.”

“Oops.” I answered as I realized what must have happened. My “full” was her “four” and her “four” was my “full” or put another way, a failure to communicate.

She apologized. I apologized and she changed the bill to one order of ribs and one caesar salad.

I’ve already told this story to three Americans who live here and they got what was going to happen immediately. My humility inducing question is, “Why didn’t I get what was happening?”

Well, I didn’t take my own advice from a previous entry, Let Me Try and Understand You, in which I say how important it is to clarify that “what is heard” is “what is meant” here in Hong Kong. One of these days, I’ll take my own advice and stop making any assumptions during commercial or official interactions.

The only good news is that the people at the restaurant were so nice and that I wasn’t ordering something that couldn’t be undone. Reminds me of the time when I was withdrawing HK$10,000 at the bank and instead was given US$10,000.

Will I never learn?