I asked my friend if she likes roujiamou, a popular snack in China, because I was considering to bringing her this as a small gift when we are hanging out tomorrow.

She said "I'd like that, but don't make too much trouble for me, I just want to see you."

I am so confused. Did she refuse my small gift by saying "don't make too much trouble"? Is it weird to give your friend a small gift for no reason?

I basically know nothing about American culture and I just want to strengthen friendship.

  • 3
    It's a polite reply to a polite offer. She probably said "don't go to too much trouble for me", that is, don't inconvenience yourself on her behalf. You may still bring her the snacks, and she will appreciate them. You might prefer to ask your questions on our sister site, English Language Learners, because they are very familiar with the obstacles faced by people learning English as a 2nd language, both linguistic and cultural. – Dan Bron Dec 8 '16 at 22:51
  • It means "don't cause a lot of trouble for yourself because of me." The usual way of phrasing it is "don't go to a lot of trouble", or "don't go to any trouble." She means that she would rather spend time with you than receive gifts. – Mick Dec 8 '16 at 22:51
  • @Mick I've edited the question into what I imagine she heard. – tchrist Dec 8 '16 at 22:53
  • How should we know what she really meant? Ask her. (Primarily opinion-based.) – Drew Dec 9 '16 at 0:21
  • I think that the central meaning of "don't go to a lot of trouble for me" is "don't feel that you must go to a lot of trouble for me"—that is, (in this case) "don't feel obligated to make more of an effort on my behalf than is involved in meeting me somewhere so that we can hang out together." Normally the point of saying this is to assure you that the person doesn't expect or wish for a special token of your regard in the form of a small gift—but that doesn't mean the person wouldn't appreciate a small gift of the kind you describe if you brought it anyway. – Sven Yargs Dec 9 '16 at 2:51

There's some idiomatic confusion here with the word for, a preposition that has been with English since its beginnings and which therefore has had centuries to develop different meanings in varying contexts. The original OED took almost four pages to outline 11 major classifications with 31 separate major meanings for the preposition. There are two meanings at play here, the first is to the advantage or disadvantage of [someone]; the second, on behalf, in place of, on the account of [someone]. Occasions for ambiguity arise. Thus

At the meeting, she spoke for me

can mean either she spoke in my favor, to may advantage (perhaps I was a candidate for office) or she spoke in my place, on my behalf (perhaps I was unable to go and speak for myself).

The phrasing

don't make trouble for me

is generally understood to take the first meaning mentioned above, in other words, don't place trouble upon me. That's not what your friend meant, of course. She meant the second meaning, that is, don't trouble yourself on my account. This is better phrased as

don't trouble yourself for me


don't take trouble for me

which is a trifle stilted and dated.

In any case, you should bring your gift anyway and say to your friend

It's no trouble for me; I like getting gifts for you.

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