O.M.G. Hilda! How could I have forgotten?
I promised Hilda this story last year, and I actually don't know if she's reading this any longer, but I'm telling it anyway, dammit.
Once upon a time I was doing a production of M. Butterfly in Portland, Oregon and our cast featured 3 incredible performers from mainland China; they had all trained in or were part of The Pei king Opera and had jumped ship in the United States. The eldest, Ding Mei Kwei, was married to a Superstar of Chinese Opera, Qi Shu Fang, and spoke almost no English, the next was Luyoung Wang who played one of the leading roles, spoke excellent English and taught at an American University--he had problems with inflection sometimes and asked me to coach him on his lines, and finally Man Wong his understudy, who spoke English well enough to get by, but his grammar was often off, and he was deeply conscious of his deficit as far as contemporary phrases go.
One day Man, who was an elfin young man with a lovely sunny personality, approached me on break in rehearsal and said (and forgive the attempt at recreating his dialect)
"Djim? I want you teach me durty word."
"What?" I said, thinking I'd misunderstood him.
"I want you teach me durty word."
"Uh, well, OK Man, ummm....why?"
"Wew, een New Yok I dribe a cab, and peepo yewl durty thing at me sometime and I only speek Chinese, so I want to learn dirty word to yewl back at dem."
Now this was not only hysterical but charming as well, and while I was more than equipped to teach him some phrases, I also didn't want to be responsible for him getting shot. I had visions of him careening around New York screaming curse words out of the window of his cab and rummaged around in the attic of my mind to find something suitably harmless that would allow him some relief and allow me to live with myself.
"OK Man, here's one--You're ugly and your mother dresses you funny!"
Man took out his script, a pen, and very studiously wrote into it: You Ukly And You Mama Dress You Funny. "OK, wha ewse?" he asked attentively............
He wanted more, and I realized to my dismay that when cornered like this I could think of nothing other than variations on the B, C and F words and for some reason I just couldn't bring myself to teach him those--it just didn't fit with his disposition. "Your Mother wears combat Boots!" I blurted out, and again the writing in the script --You Mama Wear Comba Boot. And just to round out his Lexicon of contemporary American phrases I tossed in Far OUT, Cool and Bitchin'--all slang from my boyhood, and all copied studiously into his script.
The next day Man walked up to Phil, our director, and yelled out "Hey Fiw! Faaar BACK!" Thankfully, he did not inform the director that he was ugly and his mother dressed him funny.
And I confess that sadly, I picked up very little Chinese in return and have no real defense for myself--the only phrase I can remember to date is (and I'm spelling phonetically here) "Fong Pi"