The ‘N’ Word

One insight I have gained since I’ve been here, is the very roundabout (and often frustrating) way in which a Chinese person will go about denying you something without actually using the word ‘no’.  For example, when I first arrived I was told that I would spend one week ‘adjusting’ (read: doing nothing but remaining in sight) and another week observing.  I was pleased with that because it would mean I would be able to watch the kids and gauge their level before planning my lessons. It wasn’t until the second week that I was made aware (read: guessed) that this had in fact been changed (perhaps as early as right after the conversation took place…who knows).

Anyways, early in the second week, when I found myself still staring at a sparsely populated BBC news page and reading a front-page article about a storm that hit the UK two years ago, I poked my head over the desk to ask my contact teacher when I would be able to observe lessons. She looked confused and spoke about something completely unrelated.

We then went to the police station for an interview a day later and again I asked on our way back about observing one lesson or two. Here was her response:

Contact Teacher: ‘well actually…the children are sometimes happy. They make some noises. Book. Difficulty with time and space. Milky way. Mmm. Oh yes. The leaders make the time and effort. Round’

Me: ‘…’

Contact Teacher: ‘Also the students work try well in the class. The teacher can’t have time…Explain everything. I…’

Me: ‘So that’s a no?’

Contact Teacher: ‘yes!’

That conversation took a good ten minutes and only concluded once I uttered the N-word myself.

Another funny one is ‘maybe’. It doesn’t actually mean maybe here. It’s used to add affirmative emphasis to a sentence so in other words ‘maybe’ means, you don’t actually have a choice.

These two are snippets of what is usually termed ‘Chinglish’. Unlike ‘Spanglish’ or ‘Franglais’ you don’t just have to guess the words that go in the gaps, you also have to keep track of what has been said and feed it through a sort of cultural filter as well. For example ‘maybe’ means you don’t have a choice and ‘no’ doesn’t seem to exist. Personally, if I manage not to gravely offend anyone in conversation I definitely think ‘Chinglish’ warrants being added to my CV under the heading ‘language skills’ at the end of this year.


About A

Recent graduate seeking: direction, purpose and money, ingenuously taking in different parts of the world along the way.
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