Conversations with taxi drivers generally follow the same formula. I could probably record my side of the conversation a la Ferris Bueller’s doorbell routine and save myself quite a bit of talking time. Yesterday, however, my cab conversation took a turn for the delightfully quirky.
It started raining sideways basically the moment I stepped out of the office. Resigning myself to a very soggy, crowded commute, I was walking to the bus stop when I saw it out of the corner of my eye. Like a miracle, there it was: a red “For Hire” light driving my way. Not only was it driving my way, it was pulling over and stopping for me. Unprecedented!
What followed was the most enjoyable taxi chat I’ve had in quite some time. After telling him my address, the fun times just kept on rolling in.
Driver: That’s near Sanyuanqiao, right?
Me: Um, no. It’s down Chaoyanglu.
D: Oh, right! West of the bridge.
D: I’m pretty sure you mean West.
M: Actually… you’re right. I do mean West.
D: [laughing] 你蒙我! (You kid me!) Look at this traffic! It’s pretty awful.
M: [now I’m laughing] Everywhere you go in Beijing there’s traffic.
D: Ha! You must love traffic. Just kidding! Now I’m the joker! So, where are you from?
M: Where do you think I’m from?
M: Nope, America.
D: Really? Because you look Russian.
M: I’m definitely from America.
M: [sighing] But my grandfather was Russian.
D: Aha! That explains it. How long have you been here?
M: Altogether about 4 years. I was here for 3 years before the Olympics, and now I’ve been back for a little over a year.
D: [turning around in his seat and raising an incredulous eyebrow] How old are you?
M: Almost 29.
D: But you look 20. 22 tops. So, if you’re 29, you must be married.
M: Uh, no.
D: But you’re 29!!!
M: In America, it’s not unusual. People get married in their 30’s all the time.
D: Not in China! In China you have to be married by the time you’re 23.
D: So… do you like to eat Chinese food?
M: Yup! It’s much more delicious here than it is in America.
D: That’s probably because Chinese people are making it. Do Chinese people make the food in Chinese restaurants in America?
M: [chuckling] Yes, often they do. It’s just that Americans like to eat different things, so they cook the food differently.
D: I know. Americans like to eat beef. And also bread. They eat lots of beef and bread.
M: Um, sure. Beef and bread.
D: And they don’t stir-fry food like we do in China. That’s why they’re so fat. Come to think of it, you’ve been living in China for a while. You should be getting skinnier. Anyway, it’s pretty impressive that you speak so many languages.
M: So many?
D: Sure. [counting on his fingers] Russian, English, Chinese…
M: I don’t speak Russian.
D: That doesn’t make sense! Your grandfather was Russian.
M: Yes, but my dad speaks English, so I speak English. My grandmother is German (she’s actually Latvian, but I have no clue how to say that) and I can understand a little bit of German (actually, Yiddish, but who’s counting).
D: Wait, they have a German language in Germany? I thought they spoke English there.
M: No, they speak German.
D: Wow, that’s interesting. Good to know.
:::He rolls down the window and sticks his head outside:::
D: Woah! Just a little bit of rain on me and I’m so cold! Isn’t that odd?
:::another awkward pause:::
D: So… since you’re not married, and you’re in China, would you consider marrying a Chinese guy?
M: I suppose so, although I’m not looking to get married right now.
D: That doesn’t make sense. Foreigners come to China all the time to get married.
M: Maybe? But I’m not really looking for a husband right now.
D: [laughing] You’re such a kidder!
At which point, we pull up outside my apartment gate. After I pay and get out of the taxi, I see him rush off, purposefully avoiding letting another fare get in the car. Was he just looking to chat with a foreigner? Was I just extremely lucky to get a cab? Was it all a mirage?
All I know is that he set the bar high for future rides. Next driver who picks me up is going to have to work pretty gosh darn hard to impress me with his conversation skills.