Monday, March 22, 2004

"Tongue-tied and twisted"
Lilly, our long suffering but eternally patient secretary, just called. She had a "request" for me from the SZ Daily's editor-in-chief who has been on a tear lately to institute an "English Only" policy in the newsroom.
While it's obviously no immediate problem for foreign barbarian coworker Jeff and I, neither one of us is thrilled with the edict and the staff is dealing with it by ignoring it until the editor-in-chief is spotted in the newsroom (his office is across the hall) and they suddenly lurch from Chinese into English with all the aplomb of a 12-year-old palsy victim switching gears on an 18-wheeler.
He's noticed though and according to Lilly he thinks posters with a snappy slogan will do the trick. That is apparently where I come in.
"He wants a saying, like 'Speak English' but that is too direct," Lilly said. "Can you think of one?"
I stalled for time, said I needed to think about it and then began frantically scanning my tangled, frayed nuerons for inspiration.
"English - it's not just for breakfast anymore."
"English - the other white meat."
"Behold the power of English."
"English. It's what's for dinner."
"Got English?"
"English: Don't leave home without it."
"Nothin' says lovin' like English from the oven."
"Promise her anything, but give her English."
"Wouldn't you really rather have English?"
"English, take me away."
"Nothing comes between me and my English."
"The best part of waking up is English in your cup."
"Loose Chinese lips sink ships."
None of these seemed quite right. So I called newly arrived foreign barbarian James hoping he could help out.
He told me that he'd taught at an English language school in Japan where the same rule was in force and his Japanese boss had used an identical motivating tactic.
"What did the signs say?" I asked, hoping against hope that I could crib from it.
" 'No Japanese!' '' he replied, laughing. "So some students walked in, read that and turned around and walked out." He also suggested one I really liked, but it might be a hard sell: "We're going to have to speak English until WE rule the world."
I'm still stuck and Lilly just called again asking for my bright ideas.
Meanwhile, remember that "English melts in your mouth, not in your hand..."
English only sloganeering update. After a third frantic phone call from Lily I cobbled together two proposals based on old ads. From "Bayer works wonders" I crafted "Speaking English works wonders" and I adroitly reworked "If you say Budweiser, you've said it all" into "If you speak English, you say it all."
The bootlegged Bayer version is now pasted in black two foot letters on a bright yellow background on one wall and also on a fat support column.
But this being China, what I proposed came out slightly different than the way it was intended. It reads: Speaking English. Works Wonders.
So several coworkers were naturally confused and said so in English.
"These are not complete sentences," noted one astute reader. "It makes no sense. What does it mean? What wonders are worked? Who said that?"
"Chairman Mao," I retorted. "Little Red Book. Page 47, fourth paragraph."

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