What did the English ever do for us?

To paraphrase a notoriously over-quoted English comedy sextet.

Well, they conveniently popularised the English language for a start. It has to be said if you didn’t speak English, any sort of world travel would be far more laborious. With a basic grasp of English and a rudimentary knowledge of the rules of charades you can pretty much muddle your way through anything.

You have to feel sorry for the European travellers clutching at their Chinese phrase books desperately trying to make themselves understood. Chinese is a notoriously difficult language to get your head round with its rising, high, constant and falling tones and getting it wrong can change the meaning radically.To add insult to injury a large proportion of restaurant menus that offer western food utilise that aggrandised restaurant speak popularised by gastro pubs in England.

God knows how you decode ‘ham and tomato sandwich’ from ‘sun-blushed vine ripened tomatoes and honey roasted herb encrusted leg of ham served on freshly baked wholemeal roll, French baguette or Italian ciabatta.’ Even I have to think about that for a moment.

You can imagine the mental summersaults required for someone from The Ukraine to work that lot out. Perhaps that goes some way to explaining why McDonalds and KFC are so popular with tourists here.

So what else did the English do for us? Well, there’s also the concept of the float. You know the float, no idea where the name comes from, but it’s the idea of having enough change in your till (or tin box, as it is so often here in China) to give your customers change from the inevitably large bills doled out by the ATM’s. This concept does not seem to have caught on in any of South East Asia. Thus, we are constantly playing the ‘making change game.’

The rules are simple. Wherever possible try to turn your big notes into lots and lots of little notes. Starbucks rather unfortunately comes in handy for this. Pity the poor traveller who gets on a bus with only a hundred Yuan note. That’s either going to be a very expensive bus journey, or a very long walk.

The notes here go down to almost ridiculously small amounts – the smallest being half a Yuan, that’s about 3 pence in English money. After that you’re on to coins, but I’ve given up on those, I pile them up next to the bed and leave them for the cleaners. (Amendment, they go down to 1/10 of a Yuan – that’s 1/150 of a pound, do the maths if you want I can’t be bothered to get the calculator out of my pocket)

The concept of credit or debit cards is almost unheard of except in bigger hotels and restaurants. Consequently, everyone wanders around with great wads of cash, which is constantly counted, ordered and folded – it’s all rather like a giant game of Monopoly. Nobody has a wallet either – in fact if you whip your wallet out and start fishing around in it for money it usually solicits a great deal of laughter. In a cash only culture what are you going to keep in your wallet anyway? Pictures of your loved ones and used bus tickets?

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