“我没在说外语” / I’m Not Speaking a Foreign Language Now



哮喘患者的福音?(其实不然) / Good news for asthma sufferers? (NOT)


“我没在说外语”


收藏因人而异,无奇不有。我从20世纪70年代中期开始收藏中国的烟盒。


消费品的包装和商标有趣地反映了时代面貌。事物变化加快了,包装和商标的变化也会跟着快起来。


70年代中国烟盒的图案中有许多红色,比如“工农”、“大丰收”、“火炬”、“英雄”、“红旗”、“劳动”、“福寿”、“红灯”、“团结”、“大生产”、“大跃进”、“红波”、“战斗” 等牌子。


我最喜欢的一个牌子叫“平喘镇咳烟”。这个烟可以拿个骗人奖:“喂,李同志!你喘得太厉害了,抽根平喘镇咳烟吧?”

1977年,我第一次去长沙,来到一家小杂货店,想找些当地的牌子。那时,长沙很少见到外国人。我身穿咔叽布猎装,肩上挂着照相机,走进这家小店。我感到,许多好奇的目光在注视着我。

进来之后,我找好要买的香烟,请店主——一个穿着肥大白色T恤衫的老头儿——卖我几包。我跟他说的是普通话。

从他震惊的脸色可以看出,我一定是他这辈子遇到的唯一的外国人。他满脸疑惧的表情,仿佛碰到了鬼。

我又说了一遍:“同志,这些烟,各来一包。”我说出了想买的中文牌子,还一一指给他看。

他既没有回答,也没有反应,仍然呆呆地盯着我这个鬼魂。

我慢慢地、清楚地重复我的话,又把要买的香烟指了一遍。

终于,他用普通话吞吞吐吐地小声说:“我……不会……外语。”

我用普通话回答:“我明白,没问题。我也没在说外语。我在和你说中文。”

终于,他如梦初醒,意识到他正在他的店里和一个外国人用中文对话,不是鬼。

他一点也不热情,但在看到我的造访快要结束时,他似乎来了点精神。

他递给我烟和零钱,我表示感谢,和他告别。

我不知道,他是否像我一样,偶尔和别人说起这次遭遇。


I’m Not Speaking a Foreign Language Now

Different people collect all sorts of strange and wonderful things. I used to collect Chinese cigarette packages, beginning in the mid-1970s.

Consumer packaging and branding is an interesting reflection of the times. When things change at a more rapid pace, packaging and branding keep pace.

Chinese cigarette packaging in the 1970s featured lots of red color in the graphics, with brand names like “Worker, Peasant”, “Bountiful Harvest,” “Torch”, “Hero”, “Red Flag”, “Labor”, “Longevity”, “Red Lantern”, “Unite”, “Big Production”, “Great Leap”, “Red Wave”, “Combat”, etc.

One of my favorite brand names was “Allaying Asthma and Relieving Cough” cigarettes, which deserved an award for deception. “Hey Comrade Li, you’re coughing up a storm ! Try puffing on one of these !”

On my first trip to Changsha, in 1977, I went into a little sundry goods shop to look for some local brands. Foreigners were a rarity in Changsha then, and I felt lots of curious eyes on me as I walked into the tiny shop wearing a khaki safari suit, with my camera slung over my shoulder.

Once in the shop, I checked out the cigarettes on offer and asked for a few packets from the old fellow in a loose white T-shirt who was the shopkeeper. I spoke to him in Putonghua.

From the shocked look on his face, I must have been the only foreigner he had met in his life, at least at such close range. There was a blend of terror and disbelief in his expression, like he had encountered a ghost.

I said again “Comrade, may I have one pack each of these cigarettes please ? “ and mentioned the Chinese brand names of the ones I wanted, while pointing them out to him, one by one.

He did not reply or respond, but continued to stare blankly right past my ghostly self .

I repeated myself slowly and clearly, and once again pointed at the cigarettes I wanted.

At last , he mumbled, hesitantly, in Putonghua, “ I don’t speak a foreign language” (Wo… bu hui… waiyu).

I responded in Putonghua “ I know. It’s not a problem. I am not speaking in a foreign language now.I am speaking to you in Chinese.”

Finally a light went on in his head, and he realized he was conversing with a foreigner, in his shop, in Chinese. Not a ghost.

He wasn’t exactly enthusiastic, but the realization that the end of my visit was near seemed to energize him a bit.

He handed me the cigarettes and my Renminbi change. I thanked him and said goodbye.

I wonder if he’s told the story of this encounter as often as I have.


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