The Old Boys Club

“He’s a woman.”

“You’re wife is your boss.”

“He’s too stupid!”

There’s a group of older guys who work/loiter at the entrance to our apartment complex. At least one of them is a bike repair man, but I can’t ever tell who actually works and who is just hanging out. They’re great for language practice and a lot of fun, and they love it if one or both us sit down to chat for a bit and share some food or beer or 白酒. But they can’t seem to deal with the fact that I have a limit to how much I’ll drink, and no amount of goading or joking or guilt-tripping or verbal abuse is going to get me to drink more. I think it will take a while before they finally give up and accept it. And it will also be a little while before they discover that we understand phrases like the ones above, which we heard last night.

We’ve heard from Chinese that even many Chinese don’t actually like the culturally perpetuated drinking rituals. It was interesting to watch different guys last night react to me genuinely refusing more bái jiǔ (sort of a Chinese “white lighting”). One guy plays the host and puts up the biggest fuss when you refuse more. The oldest guy in the group actually sticks up for me now. One guy was an old friend of theirs visiting last night (he doesn’t live in the neighbourhood), and he would waver between accepting more and refusing, like it was some sort of torturous decision. The others just sit around and laugh at everything. I imagine that having someone who genuinely refuses and is impervious to the social pressure and who can get away with social faux pas on account of being a cultural outsider might be like throwing a new factor into the equation that these guys haven’t dealt with before.

It would take a long time to model an alternative vision of manhood for these guys – one that isn’t dependent on how much you drink and has the kahones to stand up to peer pressure. And that might be an impossible task for me, being a cultural outsider and being from a different generation. Either way, hopefully I won’t – in some culture-stress-induced moment of supreme annoyance and weakness – share with them the fact that Chinese men are biologically among the weakest drinkers in world, and so if drinking is your measure of manhood… but culture stress has been known to make a person do all kinds of things.

2 thoughts on “The Old Boys Club”

  1. Ha, no kidding. Only in English there’s the opportunity to dish it right back. At our level of Chinglish, we just sort of have to take it. It’s one thing to choose not to retaliate when you could, but another thing when we lack the means with which to, um, ha!: “constructively retaliate.”

    These guys are some of the daily fixtures in our neighbourhood. They park themselves all day everyday right at the gate, and it’d be a shame to not be on good terms with them if we’re gonna be here for a little while. So in the meantime I only drink so much and have to wait until my Chinglish is good enough to explain. Our text books didn’t cover drinking conversation in the first few lessons. I’ll have to talk to the school about that…

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