說鬼話 Speak the "Ghost" language

Do ghosts speak a different language? Photo: Internet 

在講求 Globalisation 及跟世界接軌的今時今日,很難想像只能操一種語言的人有甚麼好日子過,但香港就例外。


但喺香港,情況就有點特別。如果你是香港長大的華人,能操流利而戴有純正英式或美式口音的英語或其他西方語言,同是華人的本地人會對你另眼相看,覺得你必然是出身良好,受過高等教育的上等人。但如果你在某些場合對人家說你不懂中文而又只會用英文溝通,人家會立時對你肅然起敬,因為你是鬼,而鬼跟人相比就總是高級一點點, 說鬼話, 那當然是比說人話優勝。




Living in the times where globalisation is the dominated trend, it's hard to imagine a mono-lingual person will have any chance to excel. But in Hong Kong, things are a little different. 

In most cosmopolitans, those who are multi-lingual will get earn more respect from others. That's because to master a foreign language, it takes more than just talents: one must work extreme hard and has a global vision, because learning a foreign language is no different from studying a foreign culture, and that's not something that any narrow-minded country bumpkin is able to do. 

But in Hong Kong, if you are a born and bred local but able to speak English in a flawless British or American accent, other fellow Hongkongers will pay you great respect, as they believe that you must have come from a respectable background and received top quality education from overseas. And if you act as if you do not understand Chinese and is only able to communicate in English, you can easily become the most important person in the room - that's because you position yourself as a "gweilo" or "gweipor", the Cantonese term describing foreign men and women respectively. Gwei is the Cantonese word for ghost. The term had a derogatory origin in the past, but today, it stands for a higher social class in Hong Kong. And thus if you can perfect the "Ghost" language, you are considered superior to other locals. 

Examples are everywhere: speaking the perfect English at a fine dining restaurant, you are guaranteed better services; if you write your letter of complaint in English, you will get a quicker and more serious response. When attending any events or cocktail parties, it still seems that speaking the local language will never make you an insider. Even if you want to talk in your local mothertongue, you should speak with a foreign accent. But still, it's better than speaking broken English, because those snobs will look down on you. The difference is even greater at the workplace - no matter how idiotic you sound, you will still make an impression if you speak English, because for some reason people believe that imports are better than the homegrown talents. You make more money as a native English speaker than the bilingual or trilingual locals, even if you are less experienced than them.

This obscure perception certainly is inherited from the colonial regime, and things haven't changed 15 years after the handover. Just look at HKU, you study Chinese literature in translated English texts. 

The only thing that has changed is that now Mandarin appears to have been added to this upper class. If you are a Mandarin-speaker, you get better service whether you are shopping at Sasa or Milan Station. If you go to Sogo or Lane Crawford, shop assistants will be delighted to greet you, if you are a Mandarin speaker. If a shop assistant greeting you in Mandarin, that means they believe that you are rich enough to shop, unlike those poor Hongkongers who suffer from the great income gap. 

But at the end of the day, this is all about discrimination - discrimination against your own people, your own culture, your own language. Why can't Hong Kong people just have more respect for themselves? Cantonese has a much longer history than many other languages around the world, and is so much more lively and to the point. The moon from the foreign country isn't any rounder than that from home.

Instagram @missviviennechow