Theory: People are much nicer if you speak to them in their native language.
I’m not sure if there’s any scientific evidence behind this, but if my experience in Hong Kong counts as an experiment, I’d vouch for it 😉.
Some background: the main languages spoken in Hong Kong are Cantonese and English, with a surprising number of people able to understand, if not speak Mandarin as well. If I were to put a timeline on it, the most pleasant time I had (in terms of friendliness from strangers/customer service) was my first week in Hong Kong when my Cantonese relatives accompanied me. People were all lovely and motherly (especially when I looked like a lost child, which at times I really was 🙃). When my family left and it was just my friend (New Zealander) and I speaking in English, people were still friendly, but there was definitely much less motherly advice being given and more straight to the point transactions.
Something which surprises me to this day, is that I managed to make a group of friends (probably my closest friends whom I adore 🥰) with some mandarin speaking exchange students from China and Australia. I never thought I’d be speaking mandarin in Hong Kong, but because of this, I also gained the third perspective of seeing my friends communicate with staff in Hong Kong. Some of them prefer English, some of them prefer mandarin. Again, there was more straightforwardness and focus on the transactions.
I’m extremely thankful that I’m able to practice Mandarin with my friends, however after a long day, hearing the crisp pronunciation of an English word paired with the familiar kiwi twang actually brings me a physical rush. Something akin to sinking into a plush sofa, or a warm bath. It definitely makes sense to be nicer to people that help you feel at ease, as opposed to people who make you acutely aware of every pronunciation mistake.
So, I guess the point of this blog post is to point out that if possible, try speaking to people in their primary languages, if not, give it a go. People are always happy to correct you when you’re wrong 😂. Even if you get it wrong most people like how you’re giving it a go and showing respect to their language. Help them sink into a plush sofa (and probably have a laugh along the way too 😉).
Until next time –