ZHUHAI, China – The poster induces a double-take: “American Slang Club.”
Outside the door of a Chinese university classroom, across a hand-sketched map of America, is the decline of the English language. As plain as the pink, orange and blue marker in which it’s drawn.
How’s it hanging? … Lookin’ foxy! … Can you get me the hook-up? … Boozing. … Like OMG! … What a creep.
Is this what hundreds of millions of Chinese youth are learning? I can just imagine a young Chinese diplomat in New York, new to the United Nations, dropping those humdingers at the bar. I picture the next gathering of the school Slang Club, to watch an installment of The Wire.
“Now let’s pause it right there,” the Chinese slangster-in-chief might say. “Everyone repeat after me: ‘Most def!’ … Most def! … ‘You feelin’ me?’ … You feelin’ me?”
Then I spot it on the poster: Shmoozing. Defined by Merriam-Webster as chatting in a “friendly and persuasive manner especially so as to gain favor, business, or connections.” More striking: Yiddish, uttered here on the Chinese Riviera. I kvell.
My students in Hong Kong mention this often about their homeland – gotta have guanxi to climb upward. Here in Zhuhai, this student puts it to me: “What do we do if we don’t have guanxi?”
I describe for them what helped me break in as a foreign correspondent in Budapest. Went to parties. Met other journalists. Got to know some. Networked … Shmoozed.
Pleased with myself to make such a useful application of their brand-new lingo, I turn to write these two verbs on the board. “Network. Shmooze.”
For fun, I stretch it out, play up the pronunciation. I haven’t even finished writing when, from behind me, I hear 40 students, repeating like a chorus of high-pitched bovines: Sh-moo-oo-oo-ooze.
I crack up. “I can’t believe I just taught Yiddish to a room full of Chinese,” I say aloud.
I’m about to elaborate, but quickly realize: it would be meshuge to go there.