Language Barrier

Now and then I go to Oakland Chinatown and buy my parents some phone cards cos they give good rates for Taiwan. Also, I think the dude semi-recognizes me cos when I go in I say, “phone card please,” and he says “the fish ones right?” So it all works out.

The last one I bought didn’t list numbers for the DC metro area, but I didn’t realize until I got home, so I was a little worried about it — much less useful without local numbers. So I thought, “They probably just didn’t print the numbers for DC, I’ll just call customer service and find out, easy peasy.” Wrong!

How it went more or less (italics is approximate translation from Mandarin, < > indicates stuff I didn’t understand) :
Customer Service: Hello <blahblah company>, how may I help you?
Me: Hi, do you have any local access numbers for the Washington, DC metro area?
CS: Yes, we have numbers all over the United States.
CS: Please tell me your <something>
Me: Uh, excuse me?
CS: Your front <something> number.
Me, looking at the front of the card, don’t see any numbers except $15: I don’t think there are any numbers in the front.
CS: I need your front <something> number.
Me: I don’t think I know what you’re saying. (I’m sort of hoping she’ll say it in English, just the key words that I’m missing.)
CS, getting impatient: You know, your front <something> number!
Me: I don’t know.
CS: Well put down the phone and go ask someone around you what the number is.
Me, thinking, “errr I’m at work, no one can read the front of the card any better than me”: I don’t have anyone to ask. I don’t think they know either.
This actually continues for a little while, she’s getting frustrated with me and I swear she’s talking faster! Then,
CS: I can’t help you then because without the number, I don’t know what phone numbers to give you. A location can have a lot of those numbers.
Me, FINALLY getting a clue: Location? Are you saying Area Code? Like 202?

Ooooooops! Also, duh! I imagine (painfully) that she got off the phone and said to her co-workers, “OMG, some idiot didn’t know what area code was! That took forever! Gaaaaaaah.” :D

phone card
See? Fish! No numbers on the front! :p


  1. hahahahha

  2. OMG. That’s hilarious and yet understandable!

  3. Hehehe, so how do you say area code in Mandarin now? :)

  4. Funny, I actually called mum to ask, the day after it happened. She said diqu haoma (sort of like location or area number if I transliterated it) and I woulda thought dianhua diqu haoma (telephone location number), which I feel like if that lady had said that I would’ve understood it. Even if she said qianmian diqu haoma (front location number) I still think I should’ve understood it. So I honestly don’t know what happened or if she called it something else. I do know that as she got more frustrated with me she talked faster which totally didn’t help cos I suck. :p

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