Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ordering Food At a Chinese Restaurant - Part Two

 This post is part two of a the two part series Ordering Food At a Chinese Restaurant.  You can find part one here.

In this post, we continue learning how to order food at a Chinese restaurant.  Now that you've come to terms with the fact that you won't become a social outcast if you make a few errors while speaking Chinese, we can get down to the nitty gritty.  Today we're going to learn how to tell the waiter what we want and hope that he brings it to us quickly and without spitting in it.  No, I'm not making the generalization that all waiters at Chinese restaurants spit in food.  I'm making a much broader generalization that includes waiters of all races and ethnicities, from all sorts of restaurants and food establishments:  anywhere you eat a waiter could potentially spit in your food.  I like to think of it as a little something extra that I didn't pay for, and don't we all like to get something for free?  On the other hand, you may be a little put off by freebies such as this.  If that's the case, be nice to your waiter, cross your fingers, and hope for the best.

Now that you're paranoid about waiters, let's remember that we're supposed to relax and speak Chinese fearlessly.  In the previous post, we learned how to say "I want..." (Wǒ yào...) , and "he/she wants..." (Tā yào...).  Now I'm going to tell you what you want.  You want "this" (zhège 这个).

The word "this" (zhège) in Mandarin is made up of two parts.  Part A: "zhè" means "this" by itself, and can be used to say things like, "What is this (zhè)?  This (zhè) isn't what I ordered!  Take this (zhè) back to the kitchen or I'll have you fired!".  You can use it to say things like that, but I don't recommend it.  Remember our discussion earlier about spit?  Let's move on.  Part B of the word "this" (zhège) is "ge".  "Ge" is a measure word.  In English we use measure words from time to time when we say things like "a herd of elephants".  The word "herd" in this example can be considered a measure word, as can words like "bunch" (a bunch of poisonous plants), and "flock" (a flock of geese).  In Chinese, however, measure words are much more prevalent and there are a multitude of such words specific to all different groups of items.  For the sake of ease, I recommend learning measure words right along with your vocabulary so that the proper measure word for each item is burned directly into your brain.  It only hurts for a moment.  The measure word "ge" is a default measure word of sorts, and is also the measure word used when referring to people.  Why, you may be wondering, do we sometimes need to use "ge" when we're saying "this" (zhège)?  Because, in a sense, we're saying "I want this thing".  Why do we need to use "ge" at all?  Because that's part of the Chinese language - don't worry your pretty little head about it.  Just memorize the word "this" (zhège) and start using it.  Do it enough, and it'll begin to make sense - sort of like doing taxes.  If you don't do taxes, then I can't help you, and you may want to be on the lookout for the IRS.

Now let's put the words we've learned together and say "I want this." (Wǒ yào zhège.).  Do I even need to mention that you can say "I want this." (Wǒ yào zhège.) and point to anything on the menu thus having effectively ordered your meal in Mandarin?  Definitely not.  I strongly suspect that once you realize that you can now speak an entire sentence in Mandarin, you may have the insatiable urge to start roaming around pointing to all manner of things and telling everyone in Mandarin that you want those things - but I recommend fighting that urge.  You don't want to get carried away this early in the game, and there will be plenty more sentences to get carried away with later.

If you really can't control yourself and you're getting so excited about being able to say your first sentence in Chinese that you can't contain your emotion, you may want to put that energy to good use by learning a few specific food words.  The word for "beef" is "niúròu" (牛肉).  Add that to what you already know, and you can say, "I want beef." (Wǒ yào niúròu.) They may ask you what kind of beef dish you want, but just repeat yourself firmly and offer no further information.  If they persist, feel free to break down and cry, or to change your mind and say that you want chicken (jīròu 鸡肉).  Hopefully at this point they'll just give up and head back to the kitchen to fetch you something made of chicken, and there's a good chance it'll be something delicious.

Well, now you can order food at a Chinese restaurant.  No, we aren't using big, complicated phrases yet, but I'm of the opinion that the most important factor with regard to successful language learning is to start using the language as soon as possible.  This means learning a few simple words and putting them to use right away.  If you want to add a few more useful words to your vocabulary, I've posted a short list here of related words that you might like to know (including all of the words we've discussed in this short series as well as words from previous posts).   Below you'll find the new words from this post.  Now get yourself to a Chinese restaurant, pronto!

1.  zhège (这个) this
What is the meaning of this (zhège)? This (zhège) isn't what I ordered!

2.  niúròu (牛肉) beef 
Are you sure this is beef (niúròu)?  It looks more like cat...

3.  jīròu (鸡肉) chicken
If I asked you to take this back and bring me chicken (jīròu) instead, would you promise not to spit in it?

Don't forget to check out this week's interactive vocabulary list.

For help learning to pronounce Mandarin Chinese words, click here.

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