# Author: Deborah Fallows
# Hardcover: 208 pages
# Publisher: Walker & Company (August 31, 2010)
# Language: English
# ISBN-10: 9780802779137
# ISBN-13: 978-0802779137
# ASIN: 0802779131
You don't have to know Mandarin to be captivated by Dreaming in Chinese, Fallows' memoir of living in Shanghai and Beijing and learning the language. A journalist with a PhD in linguistics, Fallows wears her erudition lightly as she meets locals and tries to unravel the mysteries of their mother tongue. Why is it, for example, that a tableful of Chinese diners might seem to be barking orders at each other? Because they believe using "polite" terms (please; thank you; would you mind...) creates distance, and that direct language is more appropriate for intimates. Forget Berlitz—that just teaches words. Deborah Fallows shows us that the cultural implications of those words teach us about each other.
Deborah Fallows has spent much of her life learning languages and traveling around the world. But nothing prepared her for the surprises of learning Mandarin, China's most common language, or the intensity of living in Shanghai and Beijing. Over time, she realized that her struggles and triumphs in studying the language of her adopted home provided small clues to deciphering the behavior and habits of its people,and its culture's conundrums. As her skill with Mandarin increased, bits of the language—a word, a phrase, an oddity of grammar—became windows into understanding romance, humor, protocol, relationships, and the overflowing humanity of modern China.
Fallows learned, for example, that the abrupt, blunt way of speaking that Chinese people sometimes use isn't rudeness, but is, in fact, a way to acknowledge and honor the closeness between two friends. She learned that English speakers' trouble with hearing or saying tones—the variations in inflection that can change a word's meaning—is matched by Chinese speakers' inability not to hear tones, or to even take a guess at understanding what might have been meant when foreigners misuse them.
In sharing what she discovered about Mandarin, and how those discoveries helped her understand a culture that had at first seemed impenetrable, Deborah Fallows's Dreaming in Chinese opens up China to Westerners more completely, perhaps, than it has ever been before.