我们的时间总是错不开 (We never seem to be free at that same time)

René had been meaning to meet up with a friend for quite some time, but they never seemed to be able to synchronize their time. After repeatedly not being able to meet up—he was working, and she was studying at Peking University—Li Jun sent René the following text message:

我们的时间总是错不开, 我下午没有课。
Wǒměnde shíjiān zǒngshi cuòbùkāi. Wǒ xiàwǔ méiyǒu ke.
We never seem to be free at that same time. I have no classes this afternoon.

错不开 was an expression René had never come across in his language textbooks. From experience René had learned that looking up a word in the dictionary was not always that helpful. His English-Chinese  dictionary did not have 错不开, but it did have 错开.

The entry in English read:

'stagger the holidays.'

Stagger is a rather unusual word which means 'to arrange otherwise than at the same time.'

If two people wanted to meet up or synchronize their time together, one could say in Chinese:

最好我们可以错开。
It’s best that we can find a time that we can arrange that suits both of us.

错不开means a period of time that overlaps or clashes with somebody else’s time period.

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