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I Don't Care

Yesterday, I learned a new Mandarin phrase. When one of my friends stole it and tried impressing our Asian friends with her new-found knowledge, I was playfully upset. When she said to me, "Tianqi hen hao," (The weather is good.) I wanted to retort, "I don't care." But it would be so much more impressive if I could say it in Mandarin...

So I asked a student, "Hey, how do you say 'I don't care' in Mandarin?"

She looked perplexed, "Why would you want to say that?" I explained. She thought about it. "I don't know...I have always avoided saying that."

Wow. What a polite kid. So I moved on to another student. Two of them, actually.

"Hey, how do you say 'I don't care' in Mandarin?"

She laughed. "I don't know - I've never said it...[in my culture] you always care!" Her friend nodded. They thought for a moment and came up with a suggestion - which I took to a fourth student.

"Is this how you say 'I don't care' in Mandarin?"

She looked surprised, but she corrected my pronunciation. I turned around, triumphant and ready to tell my friend that I didn't care about the weather, when my helpful teacher put her hand on my arm and said kindly, "You don't want to say that though. It's very rude."


Silas said…
that's a good insight...
Katie V. said…
I really liked this post. differences in language and culture fascinate me. We use that phrase so flippantly all the time.

it actually reminded me of being a teenager and I would ask my mom if I could do something or have something and I would say "So, you don't care?"
She would always answer "no, I CARE but you are allowed...." or whatever.

It drove me crazy! But now I respect that.

Ok, sorry for basically turning your comments into my own blog
MLW said…
What a wonderful comment on the asian culture and so in contrast to our north american culture. Makes me wonder if perhaps it is a phrase that I should remove from my vocabulary. Should I care more than do?
Laura J said…
not to be the fly in the ointment but it's just a phrase they don't say. It doesn't mean they actually care, they just don't tell people they don't! so, I ask, is it better to look at someone with a face that says "I don't care" or to actually say, "I don't care"?!
Beth said…
katie v: i knew you'd find this fascinating!

mlw: i don't know what it says exactly about asian culture - like laura comments, it doesn't necessarily mean they do care...

however - laura: my experience with the asian community has shown a markedly higher interest level in mundane things...that is, in relationship you care about whatever the other person cares about, where we are much more likely to express our disinterest to friends, both physically or vocally.

i think the students I asked were surprised, not just at me saying that I don't care, but that I actually felt that way towards a friend.
Mindy said…
In Britian it's also really rude to say "I don't care" if someone asked you which sandwich you wanted, and you said, "I don't care" that would be very rude. You have to say "I don't mind" ! My team warned me of this when I came...good thing cause often times when I am indifferent on two choices I say, I don't care!
steph said…
very true.
on a similar note, my mom gets suuuuper mad when i say "whatever" as a nonchalant response.
Beth said…
mindy: duly noted, for if/when i join you on the other side of the pond!

steph: my mom dislikes it too. but i don't know if she gets suuuuper mad...maybe it's a mom/asian combo in your family.
Isaac said…
Elly, everything about this post screams Beth Fisher. lol.

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