Saving Face…

Yesterday, after trying on several pieces of clothing at a small shop, I told the shop assistant, “Zhexie bu xiang.” Which, roughly translated, means, “I wouldn’t like these.” I thought that was a simple enough phrase – it did the job and I even used the form of the verb “to want” (there are two) that has a softer edge. Usually, when I don’t want something, I say, “Bu yao, xiexie.” (I don’t want, thank you). This form of want (yao), conveys a stronger meaning, but when said correctly, it isn’t rude – just very direct. I use it all the time at restaurants and in the marketplace with no problems. JM has been encouraging me to try saying, “Bu xiang” instead of “Bu yao” – to be a little less direct. So, I thought I would try it out.

Imagine my surprise when the shopkeeper laughed right out loud! I was a bit taken aback, realizing I must have said something wrong, but not quite certain exactly what could have been wrong with three simple words. I looked at JM, and he just shrugged. The shopkeeper quickly corrected my language, and told me to say instead, “It’s not ok.” So today, during my lesson, I of course asked my tutor what caused the problem. She said my grammar was fine, but my cultural awareness was lacking. By using that form of the verb, I was implying that I didn’t want the clothing, partly because I didn’t like it (which is a bit of an affront to the store), and partly because I couldn’t afford it (which causes embarrassment to me). She told me that I should have made up a reason why I didn’t want the clothing (wrong size, wrong color, bad fit…) – ANYTHING but imply that I couldn’t afford it or that I straightforwardly just didn’t like it.

I’m going to have to get used to this, as my first inclination is to politely tell it like it is. Luckily, here, I have no choice but to think before I talk (since Chinese doesn’t quite come naturally yet!), so I don’t imagine I’ll make this mistake twice.

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2 Responses to “Saving Face…”


  1. 1 dannygoeseast June 30, 2008 at 3:02 am

    Liz,

    Thanks to you and your husband for creating this blog! Starting in September I will be living in China, and the issues you cover are exactly what I’ve been looking for. You can be sure I’ll be visiting this site frequently over then next few months for advice.

  2. 2 Becca July 1, 2008 at 2:19 pm

    Oh GOSH! I’d NEVER make it in China! :o) Could you imagine me in a shop with MY directness? My nick name would become “No face” because I’d always be losing it! :o)


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