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Robert Siegel

Language and Laundry

Notes from a luxury, i.e. Western, hotel in Chengdu:

Shirts: vetted, purged and then cleaned. Photo by Art Silverman, NPR hide caption

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Photo by Art Silverman, NPR

No one tries harder than the army of enthusiastic young people who staff our hotel. At the front desk, two young women checked me in the other night. They go by the English names they have chosen, a practice that can be phonetic, literal, or wildly imaginative. Their names are Amy and Jones. Amy sees my reservation from National Public Radio and, upon learning that I speak on the radio, observes that my English is VERY "standard". I later learn that this is a great compliment in translation.

Three days later, my colleague and I both send in laundry and both receive phone calls about the quality of our clothing.

"Just to check, Mister Siegel, on a black tee shirt, there are two small holes...On a red shirt, the color is faded on the back."

And so on.

They are doing due diligence on the laundry, establishing by mutual consent that these blemishes on my wardrobe are pre-existing conditions, prior to laundering, and that I still intend to have the items laundered despite their gross imperfections. I do. But I am now embarrassed about the condition of my wardrobe and wonder what my ancestors would make of the holes in my tee shirt.

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