My sister and I were talking about the shades of gray in Chinese honesty. In just the last few weeks, she’s already been witness to quite a lot of what we in America might describe with the local idiom “lying through one’s teeth.”
It’s pretty common to be told that what you want is out of stock when it clearly isn’t. Quite often mei you means “your bad Chinese is making too much work for me”. But I no longer accept that all tickets are sold or all tables are booked without calling back three or four times and getting a second opinion. (That’s a habit that I should probably break when I get home — harrassing the Chili’s hostess isn’t such a good plan)
It’s not all foreigner mei you, though. For every no-soup-for-you, there’s someone else lying to tell you want you want to hear. Or what he or she thinks you want to hear. I have never been told that a train, bus or airplane would be late, in fact, employees will promise promptness in the face of storms, technical failures or other delays. If Mussolini made the trains run on time, then Mao made sure everyone at least tells you the train’s on time.