Monday, November 07, 2011

Just how uncertain are you? [War on Chinglish - 21]

Using maybe in almost every sentence is the quirk of Chinese behaviour which foreigners tend to find most irritating.

I assume it’s a product of the excessive – and rather fake – humility which dogs this culture. People litter their utterances in Chinese with similar markers of vacillation (可能, or 也许?) in order not to seem excessively confident in making a statement about something. But if this is something that is definitely within your knowledge – “What time does the train leave?”, “Do you like coffee?” – the ‘maybe’ tic is exasperating.

If you know, just say so. If you’re not sure, begin with I think

If you’re having to make a complete guess, begin with a phrase like It’s probably… or It might be… If you’re really uncertain, you can sometimes say perhaps.

But never, never, NEVER say maybe.

1 comment:

Froog said...

One of the worst examples of this I encountered was a few years ago when a friend had been visiting from the UK.

She wasn't sure what time her return flight was - either 10am or 11am the next day, I think: that makes a hell of a difference as to what time you set out, since peak rush-hour traffic between 8am and 9am can sometimes add as much as an hour to the taxi ride to the airport.

I called Air China for her to confirm her seat and check the departure time. The girl I spoke to had pretty good English, but every time I asked her the time of the flight, she answered with a 'maybe'. I tried four or five times to get more convincing confirmation: "Are you sure about that? It's definitely at 10.30?" EVERY BLOODY TIME she slipped a hesitant-sounding 'maybe' into the end of her sentence.