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Teasing Innocent Coworkers

I am a terrible person.

Part of the visa interview process is to understand applicants’ jobs. A big cross-section of the local society applies for U.S. visas here, so we interact people with a very wide range of occupations. Most of the time the visa interview is in Chinese, so the interview can strain our vocabularies. Sometimes the interview can pull us into linguistic areas that we aren’t familiar with.

Luckily for me, I have a broader level of experience with Chinese, I know how to say things like “veterinarian” and “mechanical engineer” in Chinese. Sometimes the applicants like to make their jobs more glamorous than they really are. Like the guy who says that he does “greenification” (綠化) when he really means that he is a garbage man. Yeah, I suppose that by picking up the trash on the street, he does make the city more green, or at least less brown. But that kind of euphemism makes our job a little harder. Especially for people whose Chinese isn’t as good.

Luckily for us, we can call on the Locally Engaged staff to help us out with the interview. Sometimes we just have to ask them for a quick translation of a term. Sometimes they have to go to the window and interpret parts of the interview for us. The LE Staff are very good-natured about that, and seem happy to help out.

But sometimes they get put into embarrassing situations.

Sometimes our personal backgrounds and private lives reflect on our ability to conduct a visa interview in Chinese. Lifestyles and personal moral choices can create gaps in our vocabularies. This happened to one of my coworkers last week.

He had to interview someone who works on the local government’s Family Planning Commission. Basically, this person is in charge of making sure that women don’t get pregnant. Unfortunately, the officer is young, unmarried, and is a very devout Christian, and I suspect that’s why he stumbled with some terminology.

Unfortunately for me, I understood the whole exchange between him and the applicant, and so when he went to ask a female LE Staff about some terminology, I feared the worst.

He walked up to the LE Staff, who is also quite young (to me, anyway), and asked her (in Chinese): “What’s ‘birth control’?”

She gulped and told him.

A minute later, after some more back-and-forth with the applicant, he had to ask another: “What’s a ‘condom?'”

Another awkward translation.

By this time, both the officer and the LE Staff were a little uncomfortable with this consultation. It didn’t help when I interrupted to ask with mock incredulity why he didn’t know those terms.

I am a terrible person.

But it was pretty funny.

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