The scene should be familiar to all who have lived in China for awhile: You’re out at a cafe or bar with a group of friends, having a beer and a few laughs (or is that a few beers and a laugh?). A Chinese man, or woman, approaches your table and asks to speak. He (or she) will explain that they’re desperate to learn English and would like one of you to be his tutor. Sometimes, they’ll just want to sit and listen but invariably use the opportunity to ask you the usual questions (Where are you from?). Feeling impatient, the foreigners typically ignore the intruder or in some cases ask him to leave. Face is lost, and there’s no way to feel good about the situation.
So, what’s the best way to handle this situation? On one hand, you’re loath to offend a local who in all earnestness just wants your help. On the other hand, you’re out with your friends and just want to relax without feeling put on the spot. Is there a tried and true method to make the best of it?