The unique Japanese character - VI

27. november 2013 at 14:56 | Wences: |  JAPAN & ITS PEOPLE
THE CULTURE OF CHOTTO (ちょっと)

As with sumimasen, chotto is another handy word to avoid confrontation.
Chotto is a "mysterious" Japanese word that, if you look it up in a dictionary,
is translated as "a little, a minute, a moment".
One of the first expressions you learn in Japanese is "Chotto matte kudasai", which means, "Wait a minute, please". You can also use this word whenever you want to answer a question like, "Do you like rice?" You can respond, "chotto", which means you like rice a little bit.
But you will gradually realize this word has more to it than meets the eye, and maybe, when we answer the rice question with chotto we are not really expressing the same concept of "a little bit" that we have in West.

I also remember a time I asked someone if I could take a pic of him and he answered with "chotto". "I can take a pic of you a bit?": this is what I understood. But what that person really meant was that he did not want his photo taken.

As you´ve already seen, the Japanese really dread confronting other people, and that´s why they hardly ever use the word no, resorting instead to other, more subtle and gentle words like chotto or nonverbal language like the neck movement. Answering with iie is very curt and you hardly hear it, except in really tense situations. Think about how often you hear the word no in English in any one day - in Japan, the day you hear iie can be counted as something extraordinary.

Besides chotto, there are many ways of saying "no" delicately, depending on the situation.
Be careful, because the dictionary very often comes up short when we´re dealing with cultures so different from our own.

A."Chotto (ちょっと)" can be used in several different situations.
(1) A little
Yuki ga chotto furimashita.
雪がちょっと降りました。
It snowed a little.
Kono tokei wa chotto takai desu ne.
この時計はちょっと高いですね。
This watch is a little expensive, isn't it?
(2) For a moment
Chotto omachi kudasai.
ちょっとお待ちください。
Wait a moment, please.
Nihon ni chotto sunde imashita.
日本にちょっと住んでいました。
I have lived in Japan for a while.
"Sukoshi (少し)" can replace "chotto (ちょっと)" in the above cases. "Sukoshi" sounds more formal than "chotto".
(3) Excuse me! Hey! (to get the attention of someone)
Chotto! wasuremono! (informal)
ちょっと。 忘れ物。
Hey! You left behind this.


(4) As a softener, when making a request to add the meaning of "just"
Chotto mite mo ii desu ka.
ちょっと見てもいいですか。
Can I just look?
Chotto sore o totte kudasai.
ちょっとそれを取ってください。
Could you just pass me that?


(5) To avoid direct criticism.
Kono kutsu dou omou.
Un, chotto ne ...
この靴どう思う。
うん、ちょっとね ...
What do you think about these shoes?
Hmm, it's a little ...
In this case it is said quite slowly with a falling intonation. This is a very convenient expression as it is used when people want to turn someone down or negate something without being direct about it.
 

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