Friday, April 12, 2013

Being "nervous" in Hong Kong

While dealing with the cat situation the other day I ran across a word I've heard several times in several different situations in Hong Kong - "nervous".  

When dropping Hoggie at the vet she went berserk and raced around the office leaving a trail of destruction in her wake.  The vet tech said she was just nervous.

Calling yesterday to see how she's recovering, the vet said she's doing well but a bit nervous.

The other times I've heard this word were last year when in the hospital, sobbing after a miscarriage (the nurse told me "Don't be so nervous") and more recently being admitted to the hospital for a broken bone and being irritated I had to stay overnight (again, "Don't be nervous").

What's the meaning of the word "nervous" in Cantonese and what's the word it's being translated from?  In English, you're nervous before a job interview or a first date.  It indicates a lesser level of upset - something akin to being jumpy, easily startled, or worried.  The level of distress indicated when native Cantonese speakers use "nervous" seems to widely vary from "slightly agitated" to "panicked" to "inconsolable".

Any native speakers care to weigh in on this?

EDIT:  Got some interesting feedback when I posted this on another message board.  See below for comments - 

Native speaker here 緊張: nervous, anxiety, fast-paced
It actually does mean a lot. A few examples (colliqual):
我好緊張 (Ngo Ho Gan Jeung) - "I am very nervous" also can mean different things if you say:
我緊張你多過自己 (Ngo Gan Jeung Ni Doh Gwo Ji Gei) - "I care more about you than myself" so it could mean you really care about some one (expression of love) as well.
劇情好緊張 (Kek Ching Ho Gan Jeung) - The drama is very fast-paced, exciting, edge of the seat feeling
唔好緊張 (Ng Ho Gan Jeung) - Nurses would say that, as in "Don't feel anxious" and relax your muscles, usually. Sometimes its 唔洗緊張 (Ng Sai Gan Jeung) in a way it means don't be over-anxious on the issue, just relax it will be fine sort-of statement.

Another responder commented this:

I'm not a native Canto speaker but I do speak Canto with my folks when I'm home so my insight may be incorrect. From my comprehension and from the way I usually use "nervous" or "gan zeong", I usually use it in situations that cause stress, worry, or fear. But yeah, it's a much more comprehensive term than it's English counterpart. 

1 comment:

  1. Cantonese does have specific words for nervous, fright, worry, upset/sad and angry. My guess is most local learn English in a formal classroom setting instead of from day to day common conversation and for some reason ‘nervous’ is the word that pop into their mind when they try to convey the above state of mind in English.