Monday, October 29, 2007

If je ne sais pas then je ne sais pas.

Something been bugging me recently. Has anyone else had this experience? So from time to time, I'll have a conversation with a French person who will ask me a question that I don't know the answer to and will respond, "Je ne sais pas". Then they say, "Si". Excuse me? But, if I don't know the answer, I don't know the answer. What do they mean when they say "yes" after I tell them that I don't know? Is the answer not good enough? Is it not okay that I don't know? For example, someone once asked me what the population of the USA is. I have no idea. "Millions and millions", would have been my response, but instead I told them that I didn't know. And what did they say in return? "Yes" like of course I should know. Why do I get reactions like this?

7 comments:

Sara said...

my first guess was its some sort of automatic response developed from living in France where everyone tells you "i dont know" or "that isnt possible" when really it is if you keep bugging them. and then people dont know how to turn it off (or dont realize they are doing it) when talking to a friend instead of someone in a shop :)

jesirose said...

Perhaps it's like the American "I know" - We often say "I know" when someone tells us something even when we didn't. (Or is that just a Gen-X thing like "like" as every other word)

Samantha said...

I think it's because you'll rarely hear a French person say "I don't know". It's seen as a really weak thing to do - people prefer to just guess or make something up than say "Je ne sais pas". I've noticed that with my students too - if I ever say "I don't know" to them, they look at me incredulously, like they're surprised I would say that. I'm the teacher, and in France, teachers are supposed to know everything (or at least act like it even if they don't, LOL).

Suz said...

Isn't "si" in French the negative of "yes," like a rebuttal...? Or a negation of what you have just said. That must be frustrating, indeed. I don't know. Perhaps, it's a knee-jerk sort of "yes,but..."

Jennifer said...

One that drives me nuts:
when I say something, anything, that I'm sure about - for example, I say, "this morning I felt a little sick when I woke up", and the French person I'm talking to says "ah, peut-etre". Maybe?! There's no maybe about it - I'm telling you this and I'm sure of it! Even if they don't intend it, it sounds like they don't take what I'm saying seriously. Have you ever heard this or is it just a Normandy thing? ;)

On another note, cute hat you knitted (knit?) for your shop!

Emily said...

Jennifer - I haven't heard that one yet. I'm going to start keeping my ears open for it. I'll keep you posted. That one would irk me too!

Val said...

Hi, in response to Jennifer, I have the same problem with my husbund (and my mother...). We are French. The thing is that the "maybe" you get is a answer to the second part of the sentence : maybe you're sick. It's not about the notion that you "feel".
I confess it makes me nuts too...