19 September, 2013

Saying yes and no

Clearly saying yes and no is hard. Have you ever been caught out in a question like this:
You don't want me involved, do you?
If I say, "Yes" am I saying I don't want them involved or the opposite? Usually to make it abundantly clear in English I'd answer,
Actually I'd like you to be involved.
No, I think we'll be fine without you this time. 

It is worse in Japanese and I still haven't figured it out.

This morning at the grocery store I said to the cashier literally "the bags are okay" 「ふくろはよろしです」, meaning that I didn't need plastic shopping bags with handles and she understood me (I've practised this many times and this particular phrase always works). Then she asked if I wanted plastic bags to cover just my meat packages. I didn't know how to answer, so I said "hai" which sort-of means "yes" (but isn't the only way to say yes and often is used as in "I hear you" in continuing a conversation) but it was obviously wasn't the right yes today. She didn't give me bags. Maybe her question was, "Are you okay without bags for the meat?" And I agreed with her?

I feel bad at Japanese 95% of the time. At times like this I feel like I'm failing even the easiest of tasks. It wasn't a terrible error by any means, but I failed to communicate what I really wanted, and that was bags to cover my meat so it didn't leak on my cloth bags (though the meat was already technically sealed, I find the plastic wrap doesn't always do the best of jobs here).

Perhaps someone better at Japanese than me can explain what I should have said?


April said...

Maybe "please" with a nod (onegaishimasu), rather than "yes" would make it clear to them that you want them, even if you slightly misunderstood their question.


"Do you not need these bags either?" (You accidentally hear "Need these bags?")

Please/Onegashimasu *nodding*

...they'd probably understand that, oh, you *do* want them after all.

Wendy said...

Thanks April, I knew someone would have an easy answer, when I'm put on the spot I can't think fast enough in Japanese often to say the right thing. "Hai" is also my go-to answer for "oh, okay".