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Sandwich English Is Laughable

Viewed 4212 times 2017-6-19 18:26 |Personal category:Comedy|System category:Life| English

Sandwich English (散装英语),  which is different from pidgin English, refers to speeches in Chinese that are profusely punctuated with English words, usually to a fault. This unique linguistic hybrid is widely spoken among the Chinese employees at foreign companies’ establishments in China, usually when no foreigners are engaged in the conversation. Pretty ironic, huh?

If you are one of those employees, you would highly likely be bombarded on a daily basis with phrases like:


这个货物下午会从warehouse 发出

(The goods will be shipped out from the warehouse this afternoon.)


拜访完客户, 我就回office

(I will get back to the office when I am done visiting the customer.


我根本不 care 这件事。

(I don’t give a damn about it.


In one hilarious instance, I overheard one Shanghainese lady unleashing a verbal attack against her boss, which went as follows:


never know阿拉boss 老错气, 吾越PMP,伊越tough翻毛腔。

(You will never know that my boss is such a jerk, for the more I toady to him, the harsher he is on me.)

I am not a big fan of my country folks, particularly the mainlanders speaking in their native tongue in this fashion, but I am pretty curious about how this burlesque language phenomenon comes down the pike.

Digging deeper into the history, you may alight on the fact that in the early days of most of the foreign companies’ China operations which were mostly headquartered in Hong Kong, the Hongkongers assumed most of the managerial posts, be it the role of top management, finance, logistics, and sales, though things have dramatically changed since the CEPA (Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement) came into effect in 2003.  (I will not dwell on the impact of CEPA that has since significantly changed China’s trade and economic scenes, and deserves a lengthy monograph itself.)


Hong Kong people historically like to speak Cantonese laden with English words, which I assume has a lot to do with its colonial history, a subject I am not going to dwell on either. And their way of speaking inevitably rubs off on their mainland colleagues especially when people from the mainland still very much looked up to the Hong Kong compatriots for its much higher level of economic development then. (If you are of an age as senior as I am, you would also remember the dominance of Hong Kong pop music and culture on the mainland about one decade ago.)   So, several years before, when you were roaming around Shanghai’s Huaihai Road and Lujiazui area where the Fortune 500 companies usually chooses to set up shop, it was nothing uncommon that you ran into hordes of dapper-looking office workers who vivaciously spoke in what was quizzically dubbed as Sandwich English.


To be honest, I don’t think sandwich English is universally bad, and it is especially hard for a foreign company’s Chinese staffers to avoid it when almost all of your company's internal written communications are conducted in English. For example, we usually refer to business plan as BP,  life cycle management  as LCM, total costs of ownership as TCO, which are much easier to utter than their Chinese translations 商业计划, 生命周期管理, 和总体拥有成本 respectively. And when there are no readily available Chinese translations for some terms like beyond zero, Mapro, Siebel, and so on, we simply don’t bother with the translations, and speak those words outright in English. And personally, I don’t see anything wrong with that.


Nevertheless, I have also witnessed umpteenth cases where people imbedded their utterance in Chinese with words like boss, office, level, care, map, computer, scare, assignment, and all kinds of generic English words, as if the language of Chinese is inadequate for articulating their thoughts and ideas, and they need the aid of English to help with their communications. This is what I define as sandwich English.


Practically speaking, what’s the point people dotting their speeches in Chinese with English words when they know perfectly how to say them accurately in Chinese? Is it beneficial to effective communications? Obviously, the answer is no.


And culturally speaking, do English word-laden sentences make you appear smart and fashionable? I seriously doubt it, as the English words usually popping up in sandwich English mostly are too generic to impress people.


One plausible explanation for the sandwich English lovers’ antics is that they are simply trying to make people laugh, and I do laugh at them.

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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  • Truth Be Told 2018-12-23 19:14

    J.E.Overington: Thanks for sharing your Chinese step-by-step thoughts through conflict management in front of media. I'm western, trained in logic, and I have media f ...
    Thanks for the comment.

    The story is about a fictitious incident, and it is not even set in China.  

    Actually I meant to write a story that could illustrate people's tendency to veil their true feelings on camera (or by extension, in public places) in social interactions, based on their calculation of gains and losses.

    Anyway, since I have put it out for everybody to read, I expect readers to interpret the messages in various ways, as it's par for the course according to research in social cognition psychology.

    By the way, I have to clarify that my experiences with drugstores in China are actually the polar opposite of what is depicted in the story, the dispensers are mostly nice ladies, friendly, obliging, sometimes even overzealous in helping you.  

  • Truth Be Told 2018-12-23 08:04

    Thanks for sharing your Chinese step-by-step thoughts through conflict management in front of media. I'm western, trained in logic, and I have media facing experience silencing scandals. I'll share my thoughts step-by-step,

    First, I would praise all I could, as you did, but I would omit praise of the staff. We like to create wiggle-room so we don't feel cornered into anything in the future.

    Second, if the cut on your finger is severe enough to need stitches, not just a swipe of H2O2, then the staff's unprofessionalism could be a health hazard, and that can be brought quietly and anonymously to her supervisor without asking for her to be fired. Again, we like room for maneuverability, so I would report only potential health hazards without comment on her ability to get along with people.

    Third, she gave you terrible customer service, and among foreign-dominated conversations in China, customer service is widely commented on as a "missing phenomenon". I tend to disagree with the ways foreigners talk when alone together in China: if they don't like it they can go. But I listen because sometimes I meet a caring person who is struggling to solve a challenge. Due to that situation, I've been wondering how to teach customer service skills to Chinese who do not seek the skills, do not know foreigners wish the Chinese would develop their skills... so that sort of thing, shown here, I air a little in public to listen to Chinese responses gradually. I'm a slow developer and customer service lessons from westerners for Chinese is going to be a big win someday, but years after the topic cools down.

    In the west, because you received no customer service, you could easily say so without the issues you iterated in your blog. We expect customer service training to be part of the norm, and a way to say it without causing all the upsets you apprehended, is to say the worker could benefit from some customer service training you guess the city is in the process of providing. That lets all involved save face while clearing the air.

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