While I was in Shanghai I became friends with one of the Chinese students at the university. For the purposes of this blog, he will be referred to as the Badger Lord. The Badger Lord had been studying English for several years, but he still wanted someone to practice with (people in Asia seemed to be fascinated with English speakers. More on this later). This was great, because I wanted someone to practice Chinese with. Thus began our friendship.
He was extremely helpful. He tutored me in Chinese, helped me navigate the subway system, and showed me different parts of Shanghai (it was a completely different experience, going through the city with someone who spoke the language and could read the signs).We talked almost every day while I was there. Towards the end of my stay, I decided to travel to a different city by train but didn’t have anyone to travel with. The Badger Lord, unfortunately, was unable to go with me, but he did his best to help me prepare for the journey by coaching me in useful Chinese phrases. We were talking online at the time, and the following is the conversation we had when I tried to express my gratitude (we were texting at this point):
Me: Thank you so much for your help! I owe you my firstborn. Would you like a boy or a girl?
Badger Lord: You owe me your firstborn? What is the meaning? Please don’t tell me you wanna give birth to a baby for me!
Me: To owe someone means to be in their debt. There’s an old story called Rumpelstiltskin about an elf who helps a young woman, but asks for her firstborn child in return. She agrees, but years later when she has the child she realizes that she loves it too much to give it away.
Me: I was being silly.
Me, after waiting an appropriate amount of time for a response and not receiving one: Are you sure you don’t want a baby?
Badger Lord: You mean I will be your baby’s godfather? Sorry, I cannot get the real meaning.
Me: I mean, one day in the future if I have children, I will give you the first one to repay you for helping me today. It will be yours, not mine.
Badger Lord: …This is a really big cultural difference.
Me: You should expect a package in the mail.
Badger Lord: Will it be a baby?
Me: Well, mailing the baby would be cheaper than buying it a plane ticket. Plus, they would deliver it right to your door. You wouldn’t even have to go pick it up!
Badger Lord: I thought Americans were supposed to be generous. To tell you the truth, if I accept the baby my future wife will think we had an affair.
Me: Even if it looks nothing like you? What if it’s a black baby?
Badger Lord: [My name], it was my honor to help you with your Chinese. We are friends and I do it gladly. In China we never give our babies to others unless we can’t feed them. We never regard giving a baby as a way to appreciate someone.
Badger Lord: Also, it’s illegal.
The entire time I thought he knew I was joking, and I ended up making him think that it’s an American custom to present your firstborn child to the person who helps you buy a train ticket. Because I’m such a caring friend, I was tempted to let him live in fear of one day receiving a baby in the mail.
He was extremely relieved when I explained that I was joking.