Don’t Worry = WORRY!!!

An oddity I have noticed is the difference between how Westerners and Chinese communicate warnings.

A common phrase I heard, (in English) was. “Don’t worry.” often accompanied by a firm handshake or a friendly hand upon the shoulder. I soon learned that when I was told to “Don’t worry” to transpose that to “Worry like hell.”

A big reason for this oddity is that the Chinese want to protect the Westerner from events they believe he is unlikely to be able to control. Thus the shielding of the foreigner from the reality of an impending disaster is viewed as a kindness. However, it can also mean, “Good luck Buddy. You are so screwed.”

Another interesting turn of phrase is. “You can try.” I was once fixing the wiring on a 220 volt wall outlet in our building. I needed to know if the electricity was off for sure before starting work on the wires.  I asked a Chinese Teaching assistant to go check the fuse box and tell me if the fuse was power off. Her answer, “You can try.” I explained to her that her answer was unacceptable and sent her to find the building manager and get a definite answer. Fifteen minutes later, she returned and reported, “The building manager says you can try.”

The Chinese have a different view of disaster preparedness. During my break on my first day teaching at a new branch, I conducted a safety inspection. The fire hoses had been cut off inches from the  metal fire hose bibb. The only way to evacuate the students in the case of a fire blocking the only stairwell would require tossing the students out the window, across a three story gap onto the roof of an adjacent building.

When I brought my concerns to the Chinese manager, she responded, “We don’t think like that. We just go ahead and hope for the best.”

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About Ken Hayes, M.Ed.

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