A long time ago, I studied a bit of Mandarin Chinese. Then about 7 years ago, I decided to get back in the game with a 3 month “immersion” course through Berlitz. My superb tutor – Weixin – continued on — coming to my office each week for several years. And we would chat for an hour in Chinese.
Now Chinese is not as easy as it looks. It can be a bit difficult. There are four different tonal sounds so that each word can be pronounced four different ways — with perhaps a dozen entirely different meanings depending on context. The only word resembling English is the word “mama” which will only get you so far. . . .
After my immersion course and a few months of tutoring, I had the occasion to host a group of Chinese judges and lawyers at my Firm. I thought to myself I will wow them with my burgeoning knowledge of Chinese and so I took them on a tour of our offices and brought them into our Board room for a meeting. At one point in my presentation, I noticed some polite laughter which I thought might be a result of my excellent elocution or my Shanghai accent. However, as they were leaving, their translator pulled me aside and suggested that when I tried to say “I am one of the partners at Holland & Knight,” I had actually said “I am one of the donkeys at Holland & Knight.” You should say lu shi — not lu zi.
I have a feeling that my contratemps was one of the highlights of their trip such that the story will be retold with smiles and great enthusiasm. Probably for years (sigh) . . . . .