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Indians find it difficult to say a frank ‘No’ to requests they are unable or unwilling to grant.  *

 

This is a phenomenon that I have encountered many a time on my travels in the sub continent. It most commonly arises when I am asking for bus times. A typical conversation will go something like.

 

“Excuse me, what time does the bus leave for such and such”

“Oh that will be 8.30” with a certain amount of head wagging.

 

Not convinced I ask somebody else.

 

“Excuse me, what time does the bus leave for such and such”

“Oh that will be 7.30” with a certain amount of head wagging.

 

Still not convinced.

 

“Excuse me, what time does the bus leave for such and such”

“Oh you have missed the last bus, there it goes now” with a certain amount of head wagging.

 

Ok, so maybe I should learn the language, then I could read a timetable, a fair cop. But if you don’t know, tell me, it is far more productive than just pulling a random figure out of the air.

 

The other thing that amuses me is that you will get the direct answer to the question that was asked. For instance, if I say “Is there an ATM down here” and indicate down the road. I will receive the answer “Oh yes” with more indicating down the road.

 

Anyway, 2 miles of blistering heat later, I come across the sodding ATM, only find that it has run out of rupees. Walking back the way I have come I discover that there is an ATM literally yards away from where I initially asked, in the other direction. But that is not what I asked. I indicated the direction and everything why on earth would I expect somebody to counter my request and say “Oh no, that one is 2 miles away, it is near a casino and always runs out of rupees, why not use that one just over there”.

 

The expression “Be careful what you ask for, because you just may get it” comes to mind.

 

It appears that these phenomenon exist because of the cultural obstacles in giving or receiving negative feedback. The preservation of relationships being the primary principle governing the actions within an interpersonal situation.

 

It all comes down to saving face by not admitting ignorance and does not introduce any negative vibes in the fleeting relationship that just happened.

 

I actually love this phenomenon. It is so much more fun than saying “I have no idea what you are talking about” or “I haven’t got a clue” – just make something up, complete random drivel – brilliant.

 

Colin Laidlaw doctorate in Astro Physics here I come.

 

 

·          Ref page 19, The Indians, a portrait of a people by Sudhir Kakar and Katharina Kakar

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