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.

Nico wearing her raincoat last weekend.


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.