“Becky, I think I made a friend mad,” a student wrote to me out of the blue.

“What happened?” I asked.

“I asked one of the foreign teachers for some help looking over my resume and he refused and was angry,” she said.

“What did he say?” I asked feeling a little annoyed. Students are kinda fragile and I think teachers shouldn’t just fly off the handle with them.

The student then sent me photo’s of the chat she had with the teacher and I immediately got it. Apparently, a few weeks prior the teacher had asked her for help doing something and she said she would but didn’t.

So when she asked for a favor, after blatantly not helping him he got mad. “Why should I help you with something after you refused to help me?” he asked. Can’t blame him for that.

You see, native English speakers, especially teachers, get asked to do a lot of favors. On an almost daily basis I am asked to help write resumes, proofread articles and personal statements, asked for advice about college essays and much, much more. At least once a day I am hit up for some free English help or lessons. It is regular part of my life.

Most I am willing to help because they are students or friends and we have a good relationship. But some really piss me off in the entitled way they ask.


“What’s your e-mail? I need to send you something,” a former Chinese co-worker texted me out of the blue. I haven’t seen or chatted with him in over two years. I sent my e-mail and asked “what are you going to send?” I knew he was dating another colleague and I kinda had it in my mind he was sending me an e-vite to their wedding.

“I want you to look over a book review I am submitting to a paper. I am writing it from a native speakers point of view.”

Yep, that’s it. No pleasantries, no “how are you doing?” not even a “please.” In fact, he never once even asked me if I could do it. He treated me like his paid employee and told me I would do it.

And the thing is, this happens all the time.  I have one student who regularly writes to me with requests like, “In Martin Luther King’s speech, what did he mean by….”

Once I was in Shanghai and I actually stopped what I was doing, sat down on a bench and wrote back and forth to her for close to 20 minutes helping her to interpret a piece of literature. What was the last thing she wrote to me? “I see. Okay.”

No thanks, no asking me what I was doing, how I was doing. Nothing. One week later she was back at it. “Becky, what does it mean in this letter where it says…”

Actual requests I have gotten with little to no warning or pleasantries.

“Becky, I want to open a shop for foreigners. What do foreigners like to buy?”–From a student I taught one semester, 4 years ago and haven’t talked to since.

“You will help me with my final thesis after a month or so,” –a very casual acquaintance I met two times about 3 years prior. (The thesis was more than 20 pages and these were the exact words he used “You will,” ummm, nope. I won’t.)

“Becky, can you please read and correct this (5 page) thesis paper? My teacher already graded it, but I want to see what you think of it.” –From a student I don’t even remember teaching, though apparently she was in my class once, maybe 6 years ago.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some people I love helping. Most requests I comply with immediately and cheerfully, even if they are bugging me. One student, from three years ago, has her own code. When she just wants to chat she writes, “Hello lovely teacher.” When she wants a favor she begins with “Hello beautiful teacher.” It always cracks me up and I’m happy to help her.

There is a former student in Hong Kong who I help a lot with her work related stuff, but we chat and even hang out all the time. And if an answer is quick and easy, such as a “Becky, what does this word mean,” kinda way, I write back immediately.

I don’t need a big gushing thank you and I don’t have time to chat with everyone all the time. But I need some semblance of concern about me as a person. I need to feel like the person asking me a favor actually knows that I’m a human being with my own life and not just an English auto-bot.

So what happened with that book review? Well, he sent it to me while I was out for the day and I told him I would probably be able to get to it the next afternoon.

“Tomorrow? It’s due tomorrow. Can’t you do it tonight?”

“No,” I said, even more annoyed that he waited till the last minute and expected me to rearrange my whole schedule to help him for free. “I’m busy. I won’t be home till late tonight.”

“Okay, you can wake up early and do it in the morning,” was his solution.

“Don’t count on it,” I wrote back. I actually did wake up early the next morning, but I deleted the email without even opening it. Then I wrote this blog post. Some people….



Nicki · July 19, 2016 at 2:25 am

Haha, yes this is so common! I get this in both directions actually, Chinese acquaintances wanting English, and expats wanting Chinese! Most of the time I don’t mind of course but how people ask (or demand) really does make a huge difference. For the ones that I feel are beyond the reasonable help expectation boundary, I find quoting an editing/translation fee does wonders

Renata · July 19, 2016 at 12:43 pm

From my experience, it’s a cultural thing. In fact, I used to be criticized by my Chinese friends for saying “thank you” too often, and they never could give me a good Chinese word for “please.” I’ve financially sponsored a number of my Chinese students to visit the US or places in China they hadn’t seen or could never afford. Never being thanked for small or large kindnesses (or expenditures) really got to me. Finally I broke down and gave them a talking to about it. They were stunned, they didn’t really understand why I would not know they were appreciative. I had to literally teach them that in western culture, “please” and “thank you” need to be verbalized, and not assumed. Then we talked about thank you notes — totally foreign concept to them. Like teaching them how to properly shake hands (especially girls), as teachers we should tell them about please and thank you.

xl · July 20, 2016 at 7:11 pm

Hmm… I think it’s convenient to blame culture and maybe there is a certain gravitation to brusque expediency in post-1990s China, but not verbalizing please and thank you is certainly not intrinsic to Chinese culture. I’m from a super traditional Chinese family and my parents and grandparents place a huge emphasis on “li mao” and that includes plenty of expressed gratitude. I admit we don’t have a culture of writing thank you notes/letters per se, but thank you gifts are par for the course. I had a Chinese colleague ask me to help proof-read a manuscript for submission but only after emphasizing “…please, if you’re not too busy..” and then she later took me out to dinner for this small favor.
Maybe these particular Chinese you mentioned don’t have the English skills for linguistic pleasantries and/or don’t know how to incorporate Chinese mores to foreigners since the Chinese language sounds particularly blunt when directly translated to english.
To imply that Chinese people need to be taught how to say thank you or shake hands, as if we are too uncivilized to have basic manners, is pretty racist.
Becky, I’m sorry you encountered such rude Chinese people, but please don’t let immature young people with low EQ color your view of Chinese people as a whole.

Becky · August 16, 2016 at 8:08 pm

Well, like I said, I don’t even need or want a huge thank you or acknowledgement for my help. The only thing I ask for is acknowledgement that I’m a human with my own life, and my own schedule and I’m not just sitting in a box only to be taken out when English help is needed.

Like I said, I get requests almost everyday for help (it’s 11am and I’ve been contacted twice already–once to help come up with a english name of a chinese company, once for a tutoring job) and most I’m happy to do because the person that asks me is a friend and we talk. But when they don’t even ask me about my life, or don’t even say hello and make demands, that’s when I get mad.

Autumn · August 20, 2016 at 12:14 pm

Good for you for setting boundaries. I think that’s all you can do, because there are entitled assholes in every culture. 🙂

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