"I will try" - a dialogue
with a surprising ending
The following texting dialogue occurred between my new friend Gia in Hanoi and me in Bogota
Me: I didn't see you at "More Might" on Sunday. (Guava had said he would join that Zoom event)
Guava: I'm sorry sir, since I went out that day and I forgot to bring my phone, I can't go to zoom.
Me: Understood... Will you plan to join us this Sunday for "More Might" on Zoom at 7 pm?
Guava: I don't know, let's see how it goes.
Me: Something else more interesting might come up, right?
Guava: Yes, but I will try to be able to participate.
Me: Sometimes I don't think I understand language. When people use the word "try" I often don't know what they mean. If it's something almost entirely in their control to do, then I don't know how to interpret their meaning. Can you help me understand your use of the word "try" in this situation?
Me: Great. Do you understand my confusion? Can you explain more? I really want to understand your clear meaning.
Guava: I'm sorry but I don't understand what you're saying.
Me: Okay. Let me give you an example. If I say, "I will try to pick up the spoon," this is strange because I have the power to pick up the spoon so I should say, "I will pick up the spoon" or "I will not pick up the spoon." In contrast, if I say, "I will try to solve this puzzle within five minutes," this makes sense. After five minutes of working on the puzzle, maybe I will be able to solve it and maybe not, because it is not necessarily within my power to solve the puzzle in five minutes. Whereas, with picking up the spoon, that is totally within my power.
When you said, "I will try to be able to participate," as far as I know you have the power to participate or not. Nothing is unpredictable about you having the power to do that when the time comes on Sunday...as far as I know. Maybe there is something that I don't know about.
Do you understand my confusion now?
Guava: Yes, thank you for helping me understand.
Me: I am confused again. You are not answering my question...it seems. I am asking you to explain, using other words, what you meant when you said "I will try to be able to participate."
Guava: I'm sorry sir, I've been busy with some work, I'll text you later.
Me: Okay...I am looking forward to you explanation later today...I am grateful you are willing to discuss this with me. It's important for me to understand you.
Sometimes people use the word "try" to be polite. So it probably means "no" but said in a polite way. Is this sometimes the way you use "try"?
Okay...I am looking forward to you explanation later today...
I am grateful you are willing to discuss this with me. It's important for me to understand you.
Me: (later) Are you finished with your work yet for today? Guava?
Me: (next day) Okay... I was hoping to finish our conversation...
Would that be okay with you?
Me: Good to hear from you. Maybe you would prefer to drop the topic we were talking about. If you do, that's fine.
Guava: No, that's not what I mean.
Me: Thank you. The last thing I said was this:
Sometimes people use the word "try" to be polite. So it probably means "no" but said in a polite way.
Me: Is this sometimes the way you use "try"? When you said you would "try" to attend "More Might" this Sunday were you trying to be polite and kind to me? ...instead of telling me that you probably would not attend?
Guava: It's ok.
(At this point I'm suspecting that Guava is not really understanding my English, but is unwilling to tell me that. Therefore, I sent the next message to him first in English and then Google translated Vietnamese.)
Me: Many times you respond with "ok," but I don't know what it means in response to what I said just before that. Maybe I should translate my English into Vietnamese. Do you think that is a good idea?
Me: Nhiều lần bạn trả lời với "OK", nhưng tôi không biết nó có nghĩa là gì để đáp lại những gì tôi đã nói ngay trước đó. Có lẽ tôi nên dịch tiếng Anh của mình sang tiếng Việt. Bạn có nghĩ rằng đó là một ý kiến hay?
Guava: It's ok like that.
(From this point I translate everything into Vietnamese before sending to him. He always responds back in English. I'm beginning to feel we're having an engaged conversation. I will just show my original English below, not the translation into Vietnamese.)
Me: Alright. I will repeat what I have said before with the Vietnamese translation. I don't want you to feel pressure. I just want to clarify my confusion.
The last thing I said was:
Sometimes people use the word "trying" to be polite. Therefore, it may mean "no" but polite.
Is this the way you use "try"?
When you say that you will "try" to "more" on Sunday, do you try to be polite and kind to me?
Instead of telling me that you might not attend?
I still guess how you are using the word "try".
Please help me understand what you mean when you use the word "try" in the sentence, "I will try to be able to join."
Guava: It's not that I don't want to participate, it's because I'm not sure I can participate.
Me: Alright. What can prevent you from participating?
Guava: That's my parents forcing me to go to my grandmother's house, but my parents won't let me bring my phone.
Me: Now I'm understanding more. How old are you? How your parents can force you to your grandmother's home. Please let me know more.
Guava: I am eleven years old this year, my parents forced me to go to my grandmother's house because I stayed at home all week, my parents said, 'I've been at home all week, I have to go to grandma's house on weekends' to visit my parents. They say so.
(Although I had no evidence before that he was not a young boy, I discovered that I had been assuming that he was an adult. I really didn't even know if he were a boy or girl, but I had more assumed a male.)
Me: Alright. Now I am understanding much better. So that means you can or cannot be forced to visit your grandmother by your parents this weekend?
Guava: Yes, that's right.
Me: What time do you return to your home from visiting your grandmother when you visit her on the weekend?
Guava: It's about nine and a half.
Me: In the evening, right?
Guava: Yes, right
Me: What method do your parents use so that you are forced to visit your grandmother?
Guava: That the parents will take the child's allowance. Or daddy will beat you to let you go.
Me: Understood. And how much of your allowance will they withhold if you don't visit your grandmother when they want you to?
Guava: No, my parents won't give me money. My parents will punish me.
Me: Do your parents normally give you a weekly allowance?
Guava: The punishment is like not being able to leave the house for a week. About fifty thousand dong.
(50,000 VND equals currently about $2.12 USD)
Me: So your parents will both withhold your allowance and not allow you to leave the house for one week if you refuse to visit your grandmother?
Guava: Yes that's right.
Me: I am grateful to you for helping me to understand more clearly. So it seems these are the facts. Correct me if I am wrong.
1) Each weekend your parents may or may not ask you to visit your grandmother. But you don't know in advance whether they will ask you to do this.
2) If you refuse, then you will receive the consequences of your allowance not being given to you for one week and not being able to leave your home for one week.
Is this correct?
Guava: Yes that's right.
Me: If you would be willing to accept these consequences, then you could say to me, "I will attend your class on Sunday." If you are not willing to accept these consequences, then you could say to me, "I will attend your class on Sunday only if my parents do not ask me to visit my grandmother this weekend."
Does this seem correct?
Guava: Yes that's right.
Me: If you said to your parents now, "I would like to make plans for my weekend. Could you tell me now whether you will require that I visit my grandmother this weekend or not?" would they give you an answer now?
Guava: I think not because my parents are quite strict.
Me: It is almost the weekend already. When do they normally let you know whether they want you to visit your grandmother?
Guava: It's Sunday.
Me: So they will not let you know until Sunday morning if you need to visit her that day?
Guava: Yes that's right.
Me: If you are able to join us Sunday evening at 7 pm, I will be happy to see you. If not, I understand. Try to find a way to enjoy being with your grandmother.
This photo was taken from Guava's Zalo profile.
(Zalo is like Wechat or Whatsapp)
I imagine that Guava is one of the boys.