Monday, July 13, 2015

I hope you'll like this, but I don't expect you will

This is week four of my 8 week immersive study in Mandarin. I feel I'm making real progress. I can order food, ask for products I cannot see, and I even had a 20 minute conversation with a manicurist today. I do all of these things awkwardly, and occasionally I reference my dictionary, but any of you who have attempted to speak Chinese out of a phrasebook will know: being able to use the right tones is an accomplishment. And these days, I can pick out words I don't know and repeat them back to get some clarification. 

I'm focusing on the positive, but I know I still have a long way to go. Last week I encountered a particularly frustrating experience with something I thought would be simple. I already knew the word for "hope" 希望 (xi1 wang4) and I wanted to know the word for "expect". One teacher told me it was 期望 (qi1 wang4). So later I used that word with another teacher, and then I was corrected. She told me "that word is very formal, not for general use". I said, "ok, then how do I say expect?". Her response: 希望 (xi1 wang4), the first one, which means "to hope". "The same?", I asked. "The same," she replied.

"But they cannot be the same!" I cried. This led into an hour long discussion about the difference between "to hope", "to expect", "expectations", "to anticipate" and "Great Expectations".

I assumed that my teacher simply did not understand the true meaning of "expect", so I set about clarifying the nuance. By way of explanation about the difference between "expect" and "hope" I started with something simple. At the time I had with me a cup of bubble tea (a lovely sweet concoction of "tea", "milk" and some sort of chewy black tapioca balls). So I said, "I expect this bubble tea to be sweet. I do not hope it will be sweet since I know that bubble tea is, by design, sweet". With a satisfied grin on my face, I waited for her to realize what I meant and provide me with the proper Chinese to match. But all she said was "你希望这个是甜的" (You hope this is sweet).

In her mind expectations are things that parents have about their children's future; big serious things. And expectations regarding future earnings reports from companies use more formal language (i.e. "We do not expect to make our numbers this quarter" is 这个季度我们没有达到预期的标准), No hope there for sure. 

So I took another approach and asked about taking a test: "What if I am am very confident I will pass the test, what can I say?". To which she gave me the Chinese for "I will pass the test". 

Finally I came to accept that for daily matters the Chinese mind does not seem to allow for that extra bit of confidence that "expect" offers beyond "hope". Either you "hope" for something or you know it "will" happen. 

That makes me wonder if I really should take for granted that my bubble tea will be sweet. Perhaps I should be hoping for sweetness rather than expecting it. Perhaps I'd be a bit more grateful that way. 

No comments:

Post a Comment