I don’t know if you’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting Ikea in China — on weekends, especially, it’s like a theme park (FurnitureLand?) where people flop around on the demo units, test out lamps by flicking them on and off repeatedly, and blow off steam by waiting in half-hour lines for two-kuai hotdogs.
In China, Ikea also continues its tradition of presenting its furniture with pseudo-Swedish names. You know, the one that’s resulted in much unintentional hilarity for US customers: JERKER? LOL AMIRITE?
In China, though, it presents the incomprehensible names in two scripts — the Roman alphabet (in good clean Scandinavian sans-serif fonts, all capitalized) and Chinese characters. A couple of weekends ago my girlfriend and I went to pick up some sorely needed furniture for our new apartment: two 格尔姆 and three 毕利, or two GORMs and three BILLYs, or (as we say in the English) two storage shelves and three bookcases.
Unrelated to Ikea but also faintly annoying is the Starbucks policy of redefining cup sizes. People in the US have been ranting about the tall/grande/venti system for years, but here in China it was always a reliable 小杯 (“small cup”) /中杯 (“medium cup”) /大杯 (“large cup”) (at least, in my experience) until late last year, when suddenly Starbucks staff began interpreting “大杯” as “medium” (or “Grande,” I guess). To get a large, you have to ask for a 最大杯 (“biggest cup”), as in the attached photo.
And now that I’ve said that a “Large” (or “Grande,” if we must) is a 最大杯, which is what I’ve heard people saying, I would point out that on the sign it says 超大杯 (“super-big cup”).
This is actually much more interesting: “Venti,” to the monoglot English ear, sounds classy — maybe it means “Danger,” maybe it means “A man who likes his coffee — and the laaaaadies.” Afternoons on the piazza (never mind which piazza); evenings at the casino, dinners at the tavolino. (It doesn’t; it means “twenty.”) But the Chinese “超大杯” — “super-big cup” — is very much the opposite: rather than being classy, or pseudo-Eurotrash-mysterious, it sounds (to my admittedly non-native ear) quite a lot like the 7-11 “Big Gulp.”
A few years ago, I was visiting Macau, where I am able to more-or-less read but not speak the local languages — Portuguese by way of high school Spanish; Cantonese by way of Mandarin. I’d been walking around all morning and was just looping back by way of Largo do Senado, the lovely Portuguese-style square at the center of the old city, when I passed a Starbucks and decided that it was probably time to caffeinate.
My Cantonese was and is basically nonexistent, but I figured I could probably muster up enough to order a coffee by using the Cantonese readings of the Mandarin words. So I asked for “Yat dai bui dong yat kafei m’goi,” and the barista looked at me blankly.
Fine, I thought. Mandarin, then. So I asked for “Yī dà bēi dāngrì kāfēi, xièxie.” Again, a blank look from the barista. I tried again in English: “Can I have a large coffee of the day, please?”
“Oh,” said the barista in more or less unaccented American English. “You mean a venti.”