Lost in Translation?


A term can differ in meaning used by people speaking the same language but from different regions or in different strata.  Last Saturday was the first time I ran into a situation where the difference in usage can create such a huge misunderstanding and commotion.  Maybe I should just speak English the next time. 


What exactly is “()開水”?  When I grew up, I was taught that it meant lukewarm water either in Mandarin or in Taiwanese.  “()開水” to me means water sitting in room temperature after boiling.  So, I was surprised when a Chinese waitress brought us two glasses of boiling water when I asked for “開水”.  I immediately stopped her from leaving my table and questioned her about the boiling water.  I told her that this wasn’t what I had asked for.  I had asked for two glasses of “開水”, not “熱水”.  She responded that “開水”is “熱水”and quickly left my table with no intention to remove the two glasses of boiling water.   I tried to call her back and said that I had thought that “開水” meant “與室溫溫度相同的煮開了的水".  I then said “Could I have ice water then?”  She continued to avoid any interaction with me and ignored my request.  She then approached the other Chinese waitresses to complain about the entire situation.  She told all of them that I had asked for ““開水”which is “熱水”.  I was just dumbfounded.  I couldn’t believe her attitude.  I know.  I should have been prepared for the poor service that I would get from most Chinese waitresses as they deemed being a waitress most demeaning in the world.  All they want is tips but they do not want to provide any decent service.  What a joke!  I would never get this kind of attitude from the American waiter or waitress.  They are extremely courteous and they know that they will get more tips from being polite and attending. 


 So, did I get my cold water?  Finally, another waitress came and asked what I needed.  I told her that there might be usage difference between China and Taiwan.  She told me that if the customers asked for “開水”, she would ask if they wanted “熱開水” or “冰開水”.  I explained that the water was for my kids so I wanted “()開水”.   I didn’t want to argue the difference in usage as I might have misunderstood the word usage for my entire life.  Anyway, the point was not to dwell on the subject.  I just wanted the two glasses of boiling water to be changed to what I really wanted, two glasses of lukewarm water or ice water.  I couldn’t believe that a waitress would treat a customer like that, ignoring her simple request and dwelling on the point that the customer was wrong. 


Was I truly wrong?  We have wrong orders made in the past due to miscommunication and the American waiter or the waitress would always change the order to our satisfaction.  This was the first time that I had a waitress who insisted that the customer was wrong and ignored the customer’s request to change the glasses of water.  First, the two glasses of water cost nothing.  Second, they might have been mistakenly ordered due to usage difference.  For that waitress to go to the extreme to complain to others, to insist that the customers were wrong and to further leave the customer with no service afterwards was beyond me.    


I don’t know how people could keep working on something they so despise.  Maybe, they couldn’t find jobs other than waitressing to make a living.  If that is the case, try to enjoy what they do as their main job is to take orders from the customers and to make sure that they have an enjoyable meal.  If they couldn’t get that and keep feeling angry due to shame, I am afraid that they will have to continue living miserably.  Try to learn from the American waiters and waitresses.  They know how to satisfy the customers to get the biggest tip.  What these Chinese waitresses really need is to learn waitressing 101.  People come to the restaurants to have a fine dining experience.  I know that I would never go back to that Chinese buffet restaurant again.  Yes, I do have to tip for dining in a Chinese buffet restaurant even though the only service I got is getting tea or water.  To have to tip the waitresses for serving you none other than water and to have to watch their unpleasant faces is just too much to stomach when dining in a Chinese buffet restaurant.  I wonder why a self-served buffet would even require the customers to order drinks from the waitresses.  I know that if you dine at an American-style buffet restaurant, you can get the drink by yourself.  You do not need to order it from the waiter or waitress and pay any tip to them just for bringing you a glass of water.  It is just a rip off dining at a Chinese buffet restaurant.    


I know that I am not a difficult customer and I am not asking the servers to read my mind.  Even a difference in usage could be easily rectified.  Can anyone of you tell me what exactly “()開水” means? 


This is what I found from the internet about “()開水” which seems to validate my understanding.

白開水 - 早晨起來喝水,喝與室溫相同的開水最佳,



After getting some feedback, I am getting even more confused.  Listed below are the definitions searched from the internet or provided by my friends.

In Mandarin:

 “開水”= boiled water or boiling water.  開水" = Plain boiled water.

 Ice water = 冰開水.  Hot water = 熱開水 

 So how hot is boiled water?  Could it be considered lukewarm? 

I believe that Mandarin is just too confusing.  I would suggest that whoever defines "開水" in Mandarn to make it a standard defintion to mean lukewarm drinking water that has been boiled.  When you want hot water, you have to say 熱開水 or 沸水.  If you want cold water, you have to say 冰開水

Taiwanese is actually easier to undertand.

"kun chui" = drinking water =  “開水”= 煮開過的水 (滾水)

"bien kun chui" = ice water = 冰開水 = 冰滾水

 "show kun chui" = hot water = 熱開水 = 熱滾水


Written by Elisa English, 版權所

On 10/31/10 in Minneapolis

Modified on 11/5/10


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