After my stomach had growled loudly for the tenth time leading to people pointing and staring, I suggested to my friend that we stop wondering around the massive Chinese mall where we were buying nothing anyway and find food, immediately.
As we entered the first restaurant we came across, the waitress seemed taken aback when I returned her smile. I discretely asked my friend f I had food between my teeth or if my breath smelt. He looked at me like I was crazy, frowning and taking a step backwards when I lightly breathed in his face, you know, for the breath-smell check. I couldn’t tell if his actions were affirmations or not. Sometimes the general ambuguity of the Chinese can be so confusing.
We sat in the lovely restaurant, embraced by its fiery red and black decoration, the smell of exquisite cooking wafting around us. As we checked out the menu the aforementioned startled waitress came over. We told her we weren’t quite ready to order, but she lingered anyway, still staring, quite openly, at my mouth. I really didn’t know what to do. Smile, don’t smile? Open my mouth, or close it? So, I ended up licking my lips. I don’t know why.
Then, speaking Chinese and with a nod towards me, she asked my friend; “why are her teeth so white?”
He gave no answer, this time not because of ambigiuity, but because he really didn’t know what to say.
Over the next hour as we ate and tried to relax she repeated her question two or three times. What on earth did she think the answer was going to be?
Eventually, mainly to get some peace, my friend muttered something ridiculous about me washing my teeth often. He looked so awkward and uncomfortable it was hilarious.
Anyway, his crazy brush-off (sorry for the pun!) worked. She nodded as if fully understanding the frequency of ‘washing teeth’ and finally sauntered away, probably to talk it over with her colleagues. I imagined them discussing how foreigners had discovered the key to eternally white and sparkly teeth.
My lovely and long-suffering Chinese friends have had to deal with many strange questions about me from other Chinese people, but this was the first one which left them flummoxed.
I guess it was a compliment, albeit expressed in a weird way.