“Don’t You….?”

After spending 16 months in South Africa, I’ve adapted to South African English pretty well. I let tall sorts of improper grammar use fly by, not having the energy to correct people or explain the theories. But a few things really bother me. Borrow is not a reflexive verb-I cannot “borrow you” anything, but I can lend you something. But the point of this post is the phrase “Don’t you”.

“Keamogetswe, don’t you have a pen?”
“Jen, don’t you want to help me type this?”
“Don’t you have money for me?”

The accusatory tone of how they ask whether I have something, or whether I can do something, gets under my skin. I shouldn’t let it, but it grates on me until I get very frustrated. I keep reminding myself that it’s a different form of English, a different culture, and the 2nd or 3rd language of most people…but still…

Tell me, which sounds nicer:
“Can you teach this lesson?”
“Don’t you want to teach this lesson?”

What if I don’t? When phrased as South Africans say it, saying no is difficult. I makes me feel like I’m lacking good moral fiber if I’m not carrying a black pen, or that I’m a horrible person for not wanting to cover a crazed class of Grade 5s with no preparation.

I probably am just a horrible person.


About Jen Lamos

Christ follower. Writer. Permaculturist. RPCV. Photographer. Gardener. Keeper of Chickens. Daughter of God.

2 thoughts on ““Don’t You….?”

  1. 😛 Reading through the first time, it didn’t seem that strange to me, but you’re right, it does have an accusatory nuance. Then again, in Australia, we often phrase requests as, “Do you want to…”. – “Do you want to make dinner? ” means, “Make dinner!”. “Do you want to go now? ” Means, “Let’s go!”

    When my Japanese husband responds with a no, it really throws me, because it really isn’t a question 😛 Aussies and South Africans need to be more clear obviously.

    • Haha! I am probably just being very rude by saying “No” then! SA is a very indirect culture, so who knows, it probably is the “polite” way of asking me to do something. Little do they know that asking me that way seems VERY rude, not polite. Whoops-culturally illiterate American, that must be my middle name. 😀

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