Friday, September 28, 2007

Same Same . . . but Different

There is a phrase that pops up in Southeast Asia, "Same same." Really this means, "It's the same" - why they repeat it I can't figure. What I've learned though is that what seems the same to shopkeepers here is not the same to me.

For example, I tried to buy paint the other day at a new store. I had this beautiful light slate blue picked out called "November Sky" from a Nippon paint book. When I asked the woman for it, her response was, "Special order. You choose something else" and proceeded to pick up another paint book, open to a random page, and point to the first blue she saw.

"But that's not the same color," I said.
"Yes! Can! Same same!"
"No, that's not the same color."
"Yes, same same."

We went through this ritual a few times, her selecting other blues for me while I insisted they were not November Sky or even close. And I had to think, "Does she really not see the difference, or does she think I don't care enough?" I mean, if you're going to call all blues the same, why have other options?

It happened again later at the clothing store. I was looking for some 5T shorts for Megan. I found some size 7 shorts and asked the shopkeeper if she had other sizes.
"This one finish already. Only small sizes. Have 3T."
"So you don't have any 5T?"
"Have 3T" while offering them to me. I declined. This is something I still fail to understand, even after 8 years after in Asia. There are things like this that used to bother me until I understood the reasoning behind them. If someone has some insight I'd appreciate it. Meanwhile, I'm still looking for November Sky.


Andrew said...

Unfortunately I have no insight--I don't think that would ever happen in Japan, haha. It makes me wonder about your previous post though. I mean, those conversations don't LOOK like they're between two people fluent in the same language, so I wonder if that would make a difference? I think often people are much more bold about breaking social norms in a foreign language.

Gina Marie said...

Well, you have to keep in mind that different English speakers have different colloquial ways of speaking, as well as different accents that make it difficult for people to understand each other, even in the same language. I've had that happen to me speaking to other Americans!

But here, it's generally the rule that people are fluent in two languages but more comfortable in one. For older Singaporeans, it's usually not English that's their first language, but they are fine conversing in it. My point of the post is that the dominant language here is English. If you didn't speak it, you'd encounter difficulties, like not being able to read signs.