Folk Speech – Hong Kong

Folk Speech

“Chicken talking to a duck”

The first time I heard this folk speech was when I was on a tour bus in Hong Kong listening to the tour guide, Wai Ming Chu, whose English name is William, talk about the history of Hong Kong and its interactions with the British when we drove past the residential areas of the native Hong Kong people.  William said that when the British first came to Hong Kong, the Hong Kong people described it as a chicken talking to a duck because the two groups of people spoke two different languages, thus they were unable to understand each other.  The British spoke English and the Hong Kong people spoke a local language.  William says that this phrase is the one that the Hong Kong people use most commonly to describe the environment when the British first came to Hong Kong.

This phrase describes a characterization of colonization, of how there is usually a language barrier between the colonizer and the native people.  I think that this phrase “chicken talking to a duck” not only means the language barrier, but also the cultural barrier.  Every time someone ventures away from their home, whether it is to go to school or travel, there are cultural differences, especially in today’s age, with all of the globalization and international trade that is occurring.  Any two animals could have been chosen to be part of the proverb, but by using a chicken and a duck, the proverb is more effective because chickens and ducks are both classified under birds even though they are two different types, just as the British and Hong Kong people are both human beings, just different kinds.

This phrase reminds me of the proverb “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”.  In order to survive and succeed in a different culture, one must adapt to that culture and learn its customs and beliefs.  A person cannot expect to go to a foreign place and survive without making any personal changes.  I believe that the “chicken talking to a duck” phrase can also be used to describe situations with miscommunications and misunderstandings.