Sep 5, 2010

DREAMING IN CHINESE: Mandarin Lessons In Life, Love, And Language By Deborah Fallows

excerpt taken from

Forget Your 'Please' And 'Thank Yous'

To someone who grew up learning all the "pleases" and "thank yous" of polite English, Chinese as it is spoken between family and friends can sound extremely terse and direct.

"I felt I was being very blunt, very abrupt and even often very rude," Fallows says. Chinese, when spoken between two people who are close with one another, leaves out what Fallows calls the "grace notes" — please, thank you, no thank you.

For example, if a friend offers you a glass of water, and you don't want a glass of water, the proper response translates as: "Don't need" or "Don't want."

There is a lot of "padding and softness" that Fallows says is woven into our everyday English, even when addressing people we know well. But in Chinese, "pleases" and "thank yous" are reserved for people with whom a degree of formality is expected.

"If you're inserting these niceties, these softeners ... the Chinese will see that as actually setting up a distance between you and the person you're talking to," Fallows explains. Trying to be polite can actually come off as offensive.

These are just a few of the many cultural and linguistic puzzles Fallows describes in Dreaming in Chinese, as she recounts her struggle to master the countless nuances of communication in another culture.


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