Sweet Talk

Often, I’m greeted endearingly at an American restaurant. The minute I sit down, a middle-aged Caucasian woman comes to me, menu in hand and says, “How’re you today, honey?” The first time I heard it, it caught me off guard. Why would a stranger call me “honey”? My Chinese parents would hardly call me “honey.” The second time I heard it I was still in shock. The third time, the endearment stuck out annoyingly but I began to accept it. The fourth, the fifth and more times onward, I must have grown into the ultra-friendly American culture.

The longer I stay in a restaurant, I realize all customers are called “honey” or “sweetheart.” It really depends on the servers how to differentiate one endearment from another. By the end of the day, I wonder how many sweethearts the waitress will have served.

“How’s everything, sweetheart?” a server comes to me and inquires in the middle of my meal, with a lusciously rising tone on the last word. A flat “fine” is often the most genuine reply I can give. Her passionate diminutive will not cease.

“Do you want more water, sweetie?” she asks, a pitcher of ice water in hand.

“No,” I say plainly, adding “thanks” as a sudden reminder.

After I pay the bill, she probably will throw me one last juicy farewell—“Thank you very much, sweetheart! I hope you have a wooon-derrr-ful day.”

I certainly will—after hearing a sugar-coated voice chanting throughout my meal. Imagine if I were a lonely customer, how much more those endearing words would mean to me. At least, I’m someone’s sweetheart!

But I’ll never have the guts to translate word for word the sweet greetings to my family in China. My dad may find the diminutives offensive, and my cousin will get jealous of the server calling her husband “honey.” Despite Chinese society becoming more westernized, it’s still not easy for many Chinese couples to say “I love you” in public; whereas in America, I’ve heard these three words too many times out of the mouths of strangers. Are Americans too loving, or are Chinese too discreet about sweet talk? Whatever it is, I hope I don’t need to call my server “sweetheart” to get her attention.


Filed under: Prose, Songyi Zhang's America