Ok, I'll admit it...occasionally when I'm having a conversation in Mandarin I nod even if I don't completely understand what the person is saying. If I have no idea what they're talking about I usually tell them, but if I feel like I have a vague idea I just try to ride the wave of conversation....occasionally this causes some awkward fails though...enter recipe for disaster:
-me, having worked from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and exhausted/a bit stressed and distracted and having just taught an English Corner on politics and the American legislative system (hard enough to teach to Americans!)
-cute barista, who looks so cute that I have a mini panic-attack every time he opens his mouth...
Setting: nighttime in the coffee shop after English Corner
I am going to pay for my dinner. Usual exchange of pleasantries and payment, and I turn to walk away.
"Julie!" He calls after me. "I want to ask you..."
I walk back over. "Erm..." he looks slightly awkward and then proceeds to ask me about something. "Do you know...*something*" Now for whatever reason I cannot understand him very well (he speaks a sort of locally-influenced version of Mandarin anyway). However, I think that I have the jist of what he is saying. I answer what I think he is asking. I say, "I have a friend who should know." He says something else. I pull out another conversational trick, which is to ask "Why?" As in, "why do you ask?" Well, that failed because whatever he was saying, when I said that (with my best attempt at a cute grin) he turned red, grinned, and said, "No reason, I just feel that they're better to look at than the Chinese ones. Nevermind." At this point I was totally lost. I thought we were talking about cell phones, I really did. It occured to me later that I have no idea why he would ask me about cell phones. Fail. It turned out later that he was talking about design. sheji. not shouji. Listening fail. I still have no idea why he was asking me about design. But whatever. I salvaged the conversation by inviting him to eat Mexican food.