Smart aleck fail

I took a taxi home yesterday. A lot of times, drivers want to engage me in a conversation, which I really don’t mind. However, the conversations almost inevitably focus on the same few topics: where are you from, gosh, your Chinese is good, what do you think of China, how long have you been here. For my own amusement, I sometimes make up little stories, I sometimes try to engage them in a little bit of wordplay. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it’s complete and total failure. Yesterday was one of those times.

The driver asked me where I was from. I was tired after an 11 hour day in the office, and feeling a little snarky. Instead of answering directly, which is what I usually do, I asked him to guess. He was a simple man, and he said, a little wistfully, that he couldn’t guess. I didn’t respond, content to have a quiet ride home. But then he asked if I was from Canada. At this point, I could have just said no, I’m from America. But, I was tired and cranky, so out came the snark. I said close, I’m from the country south of Canada. Ah, he said, you’re Canadian. Again, I could have just let it rest there, but I decided to push it. No, I said, I’m from the country south of Canada. He seem confused, and asked what country was south of Canada. Then the snark really came out. I told him to go home and look at a map and then he’ll know where I’m from.

I usually regret saying something sarcastic or nasty, and this time was no exception. I felt guilty about my condescending comment about the map. After all, this guy was probably not very educated, I realized. That’s probably why he was driving a cab. I recognized that I was being a jerk, and wanted to try to make amends. When we got to my apartment, as I was paying him and getting out of the cab, I told him that the country south of Canada is America. Ah, he said, you’re American. He seemed to have shaken off my snarkiness, he probably didn’t even understand the snark in the first place, which made me feel even more guilty. Here was an uncomplicated man, just trying to make his way in the world, having to deal with smart ass foreigners.

So, I tried to be a smart aleck, and ended up regretting it. I’ll try to be nicer to taxi drivers in the future. After all, they’re just trying to make a living, like of the rest of us, and their job is a lot harder than mine.


  1. EH

    Well, like you said, he probably didn’t even understand the snark in the first place, AND you recognized that your stress-caused snakiness was a little condescending and felt bad about it and resolved to do better next time, which is more than most tired and cranky office workers can say. Don’t be too hard on yourself: you may have messed up a little, but you resolved to do better, and that means there’s a 100% chance that you’ll do better.
    My apologies for the run-on sentence.

  2. We all have our days. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

    Since foreigners aren’t common in Shenyang, I’m sure you are the talk of the dinner table among the taxi drivers who have you in their cab. “I picked up a foreigner today!” Upon which, the wife and kids will ask, “Where was he from?” So, you know, you gotta give them material…

  3. Joy

    There’s one specific snark incident I still feel terrible about. We were on a road trip years ago and stopped at some fast food place. For some reason I was talking with the counter clerk about school and he said he was majoring in philosophy. I said something like, “Oh, so you’re getting good job experience here at McDonald’s.” He laughed it off, but I still remember it and feel badly.

    I guess it means we’re generally good people if noticing snark makes us reflect. 🙂

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