Chicken or Fish?
I was on a plane from Hong Kong to Bangkok this afternoon, and despite having a delayed take-off, a bit of turbulence and truly mediocre food, it was not really that bad. While they were rolling the trolleys down the aisle, I noticed that the flight crew were (as is usually the case with Asian airlines) quite adept at switching languages to suit the passengers. A bit of racial profiling probably comes in handy for them, as they pick a language to start with, and if they are mistaken, change almost seamlessly to a more suitable tongue after absorbing voice cues from the passenger. Cantonese is the default for this Hong Kong-based airline, and as I look as if I speak it, I usually end up speaking some sort of Canto-English to get my order across. This crew was particularly good at remembering which language was required for each passenger, and flipped back and forth between Cantonese for in-crew discussions, and English, Thai, or Mandarin for the paying customers. I saw some very admirable high-altitude, high-speed language switching today.
The only problems they seem to come across are when the announcements have to be made in triplicate (English, Cantonese, Thai), and it can be a long time before some people realise they are being told to sit down until the plane has finished taxiing down the runway. Eventually one of the stewardesses just came out and started waving her hands in a ‘sit down!’ motion. Sometimes language barriers do just need to be jumped over.