In nearly every ESL textbook, you will find the phrase “Why don’t you _______?” Sometimes I find this irritating, because when giving advice, my students will never use the more simple wording of “You should _______.”
Sometimes the textbooks use the phrase well and the lesson isn’t terrible, and sometimes, the students just repeat inane sentences like “Why don’t you make a pencil case out of your old jeans?” Seriously, that was the sentence my students had to learn last year.
This year, it’s not so bad, but I still hate this phrase, mainly because of how my coworkers use it. I hate this phrase because there is no easy, non-committal way to answer a question that starts with “Why don’t you?”
I don’t like to commit. I definitely don’t like to say “no.” “No” is rude. So I like to answer without saying no, but still give myself the option of not taking the suggestion offered. But if someone starts a sentence with “Why don’t you _____?” I have to think of an excuse because the “no” version is “I don’t want to.” And that would be incredibly rude. Some excuses aren’t so hard, like “Why don’t you come hiking with us on Saturday?”
There are a multitude of excuses for that one, like “I already have plans to meet my friends.”
But other ones are much hard to escape, like “Why don’t have coffee with us now?” I want to answer “no” because having coffee together is a very dangerous thing, but at the same time, I’m clearly not busy and I don’t want to be rude, so I just end up having coffee. “Why don’t you?” results in all sorts of trouble and complications just because I can’t think of a good excuse to answer with. If I can’t think of an excuse, I usually answer with “Ummmm I… don’t… know?” which most people seem to take as a “Sure, I’d be happy to do that!” Which is not what I meant at all.
And this is how I ended up accidentally joining the Wednesday afternoon ping-pong club.