I find it rather offensive when non-Chinese people try to speak “Chinese” to me. Once, I had a customer walk up with his young son (!) and say to me “Ni Hao”. I looked at them with a glare, feeling offended first by his horrible accent, and second, by the fact that he even had the nerve to say such a thing to me. What if I weren’t Chinese? And why exactly was it necessary to “speak Chinese” to a girl working at a hot dog stand? I would be a little less offended and would understand if I were a server at a Chinese restaurant; but come on, a hot dog stand. From my accent, I’m sure the guy could tell I spoke perfectly fine English and that I didn’t need him to “impress” me with his “Chinese”.
Another time, I was giving another customer his drink and his change, and he said to me afterwards “Dou jie/Shi Shi Ni”, which means “Thank you” in Cantonese/Mandarin. I thought the guy was okay up until that point, but immediately I felt offended once again.
You know, I would feel “impressed” if I were in China and they were doing this to me. But I am in AMERICA. I know that many San Franciscans are actually Chinese, and a lot of them are immigrants from China, so they speak little English/more Cantonese/Mandarin. I can understand that–that’s why Chinatown seems so foreign of a place to outsiders since the majority of the businesses are run only in Cantonese.
But hello–it’s just really dumb and ignorant when guys like those (mentioned above) try to “speak Chinese” to someone who is obviously not an immigrant AND can speak English. I’m not dissing on my people in Chinatown, but really, what the hell. Next time someone tries to speak Chinese to me that way, they’re going to be in for a bad surprise.