Monday, October 8, 2007

"Thank you" as an insult? "谢谢"是侮辱吗?

From the time I was little I have memories of my father listening to my phone conversations with adults and hollering in the background, "I better hear you saying 'Yes Mam, No Sir, Please and Thank you!'" Polite words were ingrained in me partly because that is how English is used, and partly because I grew up surrounded by "Southern Hospitality."

This part of my culture is something I have been made very aware of here in China, and not in such a good way. Oddly enough, I have had to unravel some of that training so as not to offend my friends. I called a good friend of mine later on in the evening to thank him for dinner and say that I had a really good time, just wanting him to know that I appreciated it. He asked me why I called and said what I was doing was wrong in China. Apparently by expressing gratitude I was saying that I didn't think much of our friendship but considered him more of an acquaintance that I should use polite words with. True friends feel that these polite words show you are keeping track of giving and receiving and should only be used with new acquaintances and more formal situations. Again last night a different friend invited me to eat dinner sometime this week and I wrongly replied to the invite with a thank-you. In both situations I'm glad that they were good friends understanding a cultural difference and helping me prevent offending people in the future.

Finally, I realized that this is very evident in the language alone. Look at the English "You're Welcome." It seems like you should be thanking me, and I'm telling you that you are welcome to whatever I did for you. In Chinese, "Thank you, 谢谢" is followed by "Don't be so polite, 别客气!" Meaning you should not have thanked me, but I should have done what I did. There's a lot of culture wrapped up in little words sometimes...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wooo, you have dig deep into the culture in China. Congratulations!But in my opinion, "谢谢" is good word and should be use to show you appreciation to somebody you want to thank for. For me, I always thank somebody who do me a favor in a cute tone to be pretty.^_^. So, just go ahead, the word is come out from your heart, isn't it?