A Funny Thing Happened with my Chinese Roommate at Panera Bread

Chinese mistranslation

I know I’m spelling his name wrong, but…Renzhi (REHN-gee) Liu was just a little odd. He was from China and had only been in America six months when I met him. He had become my new college roommate after my previous one left town to avoid the police (not even slightly joking). He was an okay dude, though. He even offered to get me dirty-cheep bootlegs of any DVD or video game I wanted. How thoughtful!

Now, Renzhi was very excitable and everything made him laugh. He ran down the hallway in late January at 10:30 at night screaming “IT’S SNOWING EVERYBODY!!” This was also the guy who locked me in the bathroom during my shower and home-run smacked my butt with a dinner tray in the dining hall. That’s a fun kind of pain.

So yeah, this kid was a little goofy, which is why I didn’t think much about it when he said he wanted to eat soap.

We went to Panera Bread (comment if you call it St. Louis Bread Co!) to get some dinner and I asked Renzhi what he would want to eat. He replied, “I think I will eat some soap!” Ha, ha weirdo. But then we get in line and the cashier asks what she can get for my roommate. “I would like to eat soap!” He said again. He was dead serious.

The cashier looked at me. I looked at Renzhi. Renzhi looked at both of us, wondering what the problem was. “I want to eat soap,” he said again. I finally realized this wasn’t him being silly; it was a translation error.

This had happened before. Once I was nauseous, so I asked Renzhi if he had any crackers. He wasn’t familiar with the word, so he picked up his electronic dictionary, found the word, then gave me a curious stare. “Why do you want this?” he asked. I told him I was feeling sick and I wanted to eat some crackers to soothe my stomach. He gave me a wide-eyed stare and laughed hysterically. I finally grabbed the translator and discovered that he was looking at the definition for firecrackers. Renzhi thought I wanted to chow down on some bottle rockets because my I had a bellyache.

So I took Renzhi out of the line and tried to get him to describe what he wanted. Eventually he said, “Oh! I say it wrong. I want to drink soap!”

“Well, it does come in liquid form,” I said, “but I still think you’re getting the word wrong. What do you mean?”

“I mean I want soap. You know, bowl of soap.”

Soup, Renzhi. You want soup.

The best part was a few minutes later, once we’d gotten our food. Renzhi asked what the difference was between soap and soup.

I said, “Soup is the stuff you’re eating right now. Soap is what you wash with in the shower.”

Renzhi’s laugh echoed off the walls as he got back to eating his steaming bowl of Chicken Noodle Soap.

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