Learning to say no
Yesterday, when I was walking my dog, a man approached me and started speaking in broken English: “Excuse me? Do you speak Chinese?”. “Yes”, I said. Then he started telling me that he wanted to improve his English. Was I for any chance an English teacher?. “No, I’m not a teacher”, I replied. “Aren’t there several language schools in this street? Why don’t you try there?”. “Oh, those are too expensive. I wanted to look for a foreigner to…”. I knew where this was going. Language exchange? No, thanks. “Well, I am not a teacher, and apart from that my native language is not even English”. “Oh, so your English is not that good”, he said. “Exactly”, I lied. I think he noticed my discomfort. He apologized and walked away.
Situations like this seem to be pretty common for foreigners in China. Luckily they don’t happen to me too often. I have no interest, nor time, to teach English to random people, be it for free or for a fee. Besides, I am not even qualified for it. But many people here seem to think having a white face means you can teach English.
Anyway, what bothers me the most is not that they assume that I am an English teacher. It’s the fact that they ask me for something and I have to say no. I find it very difficult to say no. I think this is a hereditary trait, as I remember when I was a kid my dad read a book called “Don’t say yes when you want to say no”. The cover was bright yellow, maybe that’s why I noticed it.
I guess some people are afraid to say no because they think others will form a negative opinion about them. For me, the problem is that I feel bad when someone asks me for help and I have to let them down. For example, yesterday’s man. I feel bad that I said no to him, but I really, really don’t want to do a language exchange! And that is not the only time this has happened to me. I often feel this way when strangers or acquittances need something from me. If it’s a person I know well, I say no without feeling guilty at all if I really don’t want to do what they are asking!
Maybe I should read that “Don’t say yes when you want to say no” book.