“In Europe, every family owns at least two cars”

One evening in September 2013, I take a motorcycle cab back to my place. The driver asks me where I need to go. I tell him the name of the closest bus stop (which is also what I would usually tell cab drivers) and get on the motorcycle.

While driving, he asks: “What’s the name of the neighborhood?” (At least this is what I think he asked in retrospect).
I reply: “Sorry, I don’t understand. Can you say that again?”
He: “What neighborhood are you living in?”
I: “Sorry, I don’t understand.”
He: “I’m sorry, my Mandarin Chinese is really bad. It’s actually much worse than yours.”
I: “Where are you from?”
He: “From Meizhou.”
I: “Guizhou?”
He: “Yes, Meizhou in Guangdong province.”
I: “Baizhou?”
He: “Yes, Meizhou in Northern Guangdong.”
I: “I see.” (Epic fail at trying to understand the driver’s heavy accented Mandarin Chinese).

When we arrive at the destination, he asks:
“Are you from the US?”
I: “No, I’m from Europe.”
He: “Europe is really developed. I saw on the news that every family owns at least two cars.”
I: “That’s often true, especially for people living in the countryside. If you don’t have a car, you can’t get anywhere.”

I give him 7 Yuan and say goodbye. He thanks me and drives off into the night.

Have you ever had a similar conversation or problems conversing because you couldn’t understand the other person’s accent? I’d love to read your comments.

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11 thoughts on ““In Europe, every family owns at least two cars”

  1. I was lucky because I didn’t need to – in Europe it’s not a problem for me to communicate, in America my husband is a driver or I just take a bus and in Asia either we rent a car and my husband drives or we take a taxi, but he speaks the language.
    He can speak Cantonese, Shanghainese and pretty broken Mandarin but when we go to Shanghai he just speaks Shanghainese to the police (with HK passport he also had to register as a foreigner in the hotel) or to a taxi driver and I didn’t worry but I was shocked once the taxi driver asked my husband: WHAT WILL YOU DO WITH YOUR WIFE IF THERE’S ANOTHER CULTURAL REVOLUTION.
    What …. the …. hell … 🙂

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  2. Yes — especially my husband’s godfather out here. He speaks local dialect with a Wenzhou accent. I’ve only begun to learn the local dialect, but when you add one of the most unintelligible dialects on top of that, it’s a disaster!

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  3. Are cars required to get around as they are in rural Austria? If not, they become a luxury item and the rate of their ownership begins to reflect conspicuous consumption rather than development. Additionally, European cars are of a higher quality and more luxurious. In the US one sees more Fords and Chevys whereas in Europe one sees more BMWs, Audis, and Mercedes and other luxurious cars. Are the cars in China also luxurious?

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    • In rural areas in China, people’s jobs are often different from the cities. Many people do work as farmers or have a small shop. In Austria, the difference between cities and more rural areas isn’t that big – eg. you could still find work in IT or as a doctor, etc. in more rural areas and make a decent living with it, but in China those jobs can often only be found in the cities. So for many of the jobs in the countryside, a car is not 100% necessary, but a good tractor or some machines for working in the fields would often go a long way. If people in the countryside can afford it and need it to get to work, they’ll have a motorcycle, but even then it’s often shared by the whole family.

      Now, this is not to say that all rural areas are like this, there are poorer and richer ones and there are also more affordable cars than the German brands you mentioned.

      I think the difference you mentioned between Europe and the US is not one of more vs. less luxurious cars, but rather one of where those cars have been produced. European cars are much more affordable in Europe than they are in China and many people in Europe buy normal family cars or second hand cars instead of luxurious cars.

      In contrast to that, it’s crazy how new and luxurious many of the cars in Shenzhen and many other areas in China are (I’ve seen more Porsche’s here in 2 years time than I have ever seen while living in Europe) – even more so considering the fact that European cars (and cars from the US too, I guess) are much more expensive in China than they’d be in Europe.

      And this is only talking about the price of cars, many big cities have or are introducing a high fee for getting a license plate.

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  4. When it comes to people accent I bet every country has a variety which may make it some impossible to understand each other.
    For example I am from North Germany, I speak Standard German and low German in several varieties. However when I moved to Saxony during my high school time I was utterly lost. I could not understand at all several teachers and teammates from my club. It took me about one year to get used to that dialect.
    Furthermore when I get into really rural areas in Bavaria I am as lost as any tourist from Asia 🙂

    Btw, must agree with Ruth, during my first five week visit in China I saw more luxury cars than in my whole life in Germany and other countries…

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    • You’re right, dialects are common in all languages. Since China is that big, it just makes the dialects much more diverse (and except for the dialects there are also other languages in use, adding to the variety).

      In the past, I’ve had problems understanding West Austrian dialects that are closer to Swiss German than to the Bavarian dialects which are spoken in most other regions in Austria. It did take a few months getting used to.

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  5. I have a friend from Beijing and I can never understand him when he speaks Mandarin… so we speak in English. It’s not about his accent, I am used to hearing Beijing accent and all the rrrrrs and stuff, it’s just the way he speaks… like if he was speaking to himself haha.

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  6. Uch, communicating with Chinese people who can’t speak proper Mandarin is so frustrating. Occasionally you meet the heavy accent taxi drivers in the city, you’d think they would have to be more standard to survive here. The worst is traveling to smaller towns and speaking to the elderly. Well the challenges are what makes travel adventurous ~

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