Monday, July 4, 2011

Mandarin Mondays: 加油

Last Friday as we were returning home, from trying for the second time to pay our cold water bill (unsuccessfully as they told us we have to wait at least 11 more days), we walked past a gas station. Nate said that he had learned something really interesting in class about the phrase to add oil (加油, jiā yóu). It is exactly the same words you use to cheer someone one, like a cheerleader (啦啦队, lā lā duì) at a sporting event, or if you are just trying to encourage (鼓励, gǔ lì) someone. Right this minute, I can hear Chinese grandmothers encouraging their grandchildren who are playing outside by saying,"jiā yóu, jiā yóu."

Literally: Add Oil Station
Saying, "jiā yóu, jiā yóu, jiā yóu," is like saying, "go, go, go," at a sporting event, while saying, "jiā yóu" at a gas station (加油站, jiā yóu zhàn) means add gas (literally oil). I guess we have similar phrases in English like "pump it up," "turn on the gas," or "put the pedal to the metal."

Later that evening on the way to Walmart, we passed a famous "Muslim" restaurant and witnessed the staff getting some encouragement or marching orders (we're not sure which). Before the dinner hour, at almost every restaurant big or small, the staff heads out front of the building in groups divided by their position in the restaurant. Usually, you see the cooks out first, and then the waitresses. Later, the hostesses and parking attendants get their pep talk.

Usually, you see someone with a clipboard, piece of paper, or whistle (to make them more official) talking to the group first. After the pep talk, the employees will usually march around and sometimes shout or cheer like soldiers or play teamwork building games. Encouragement is interesting here.

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