Impressing people at parties with your language skills

I was at a party yesterday and found this to be a real thing.

There were some Chinese students at the party and I casually said " I can also speak Chinese". to them.
now, I in fact do not speak Chinese at all other than a couple basic phrases but they were amazed that a white american guy could speak any Chinese at all. They kept saying that I spoke such good Chinese despite the fact that I continuously reminded them that I only knew a few phrases. They were still really impressed. If I had actually known Chinese it would have been quite fun to socialize with them.

In any case, it seems like speaking a foreign language is a handy party trick to have a hand: People are apparently impressed: I suppose it makes you seem worldly and sophisticated especially when you are an american and the expectations are so embarrassingly low. At the very least it was an interesting icebreaker to have.

on hand*

Interesting icebreaker. Yeah.

I’ve found Chinese will flip out and praise you to the stars if you can say “hello, my name is…” in their language. Once you are able to speak comfortably with them, you don’t get that anymore. After a few minutes they might remark on your Mandarin being quite good, but no matter how good you get, it’s nothing like the outrageous reaction you get when you can just say a few phrases.

In a way it’s great encouragement for a beginner to receive such praise, but also for the experienced learner to just be having casual conversations where no one comments on your language ability. It’s an indication that you’ve accomplished a lot and a further confidence boost to continue.

I’ve had positive and somewhat negative. Positive is as you said, impressing someone. Negative being getting told that it’s a waste because English is spoken everywhere. Now I know the second isn’t true but it does get to you after awhile.

This party trick works well with foreighners who had to learn English, but to other English speakers, it doesn’t seem to do much. Especially if you tell them you speak French or Spanish and they just respond with “bonjour baguette” or “i surrender”. Or the typical high school Spanish student phrase “tengo un gato en mis pantalones” - I have a cat in my pants.

But I agree, when the chance is there, it is fun to use the language to surprise people such as Laoshu (Moses McCormick) does.

My younger brother had a couple of years of Chinese in high school, not nearly enough to be fluent, and he’d already forgotten much by the time he was in college. But when his studying in the university library was disturbed by a group of loud Chinese students at a neighboring table, he was able to ask them in Chinese to please be quiet. He says the look on their faces was priceless.

This was back in the '80s when the number of Americans with any knowledge of Chinese was likely an order of magnitude smaller than today even, so multiply the amazement factor.