The Worst Insult to Chinese Tea By Juilet W

As we were in China, I was determined to buy tea. We veered down a side street and wandered past dry cleaners and nail bars. We finally found a tiny tea store (it couldn’t have been more than eight foot square). Teapots lined the shelves and black plastic tags listed the prices—no haggling here.

The woman in the store spoke a few words of English. I managed to get a tin of green tea but, when it came to oolong tea, it got a bit more complicated. After much confusion over pricing, it emerged that oolong was sold based on weight. The store owner had attempted English, so I decided to apologize for my lack of Mandarin. There were two phrases that I had memorized.

I intended to say ‘whoa how bow chien’ (written phonetically), which means ‘I am so sorry.’ I tagged ‘Mandarin’ on the end of the sentence, hoping the sentiment was conveyed. Instead, I trotted out phrase number two: ‘woo boo shufu’ (written phonetically). The woman took a hasty step back. As I finished speaking, I realized what I’d just said: I feel sick! I've never received my change quite so promptly.

in Shanghai, China


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