Saying no: in words or in silence (negation)

30 posts in this topic

Hi folks,

 

If I am asked a question in English, and I say nothing, it is often assumed that I agree. "Silence is assent". I get the feeling that it is the opposite in Germany.

 

For example, this morning I was told that - in Germany - it is rude to ask a question when the answer is likely to be "no". And most germans would simply ignore the question, rather than say "no" outright.

 

Is this your experience?

thanks

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I'd say that depends entirely on the question. If you ask a question that in itself might be considered rude people might want to pretend you didn't even ask. Are you trying to pick up a German girl and she ignored you ;)?

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I think this question is a bit too broad.

 

I do think many would find it rude to ask FOR something when you know the answer will be no, as you're putting the person on the spot and making them look like a jerk. I personally find that sort of thing heading in the passive aggressive direction - at the very least it's annoying as you theoretically already know the answer, why force the issue? I would not be surprised if the reaction were to simply ignore the question in this case, but I can't say I've ever tried it.

 

But for less loaded questions, for instance "is it going to be sunny this weekend?", I think you would simply get a straight answer - "no".

 

But why ask the question at all when you know what the answer is? I don't get it.

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@Beuel, no - this was a purely "social" topic where the said German patiently explained to me that it was considered rude to ask a direct yes/no question... Was curious whether it was more general..

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@lisa3: interesting response - and I think you touched on the key issue.

 

"I do think many would find it rude to ask FOR something when you know the answer will be no, as you're putting the person on the spot and making them look like a jerk".

 

Context was the neighbour was asking to borrow the car for the day and I was quite cheerful about saying "no" but "you are still my friend anyway". The feedback I got (from the german wife not the neighbour) was the neighbour should have know better than to ask - as there was a good chance she would get a "no" and somehow that was offensive.

 

Now I am not at all offended by a "no". But as an Australian, what do I know :)

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I think asking to borrow your car when they know you dont want to lend it to them could be viewed as applying pressure though feelings of guilt and if it is something that has been touched on before it might in some cases be thought of as them badgering you.

 

Personally I think this kind of subtlty is going out of the window and people tend to be more direct but some people do put great value on these kinds of etiquette games.

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yeah ok that makes much more sense

 

I think the point has nothing to do with the answer "no". Germans, as far as I can tell, are 100% comfortable saying no. Very comfortable :)

 

But one thing I have observed time and again is that when a conversation or question crosses a line...I've found there are many ways to accomplish this...the only response is no response. It's like hitting a wall. The non response can be in the interest of letting a faux pas slide (in which case it seems rather kind/generous) or it can indicate something along the lines of "there will be no further discussion".

 

This is only my observation but the non-answer is most definitely an answer. It's just context sensitive as to the tone ;)

 

Asking to borrow your car is damned bold. Really. It's not the "no" that's offensive, it's the question in the first place (I suspect).

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@zwiebelfisch "viewed as applying pressure though feelings of guilt"

 

(why isn't there a reply to a reply button)

 

I think you have summarised it really well. I feel no guilt at saying "no". Who cares why I said "no". No is no.

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Probably more a question regarding the car itself. For Herman a car is a veeery private thingy. So asking a neighbour whether they can borrow the car is getting close to asking for borrowing the husband/wife (just one night have got that lovely dreamy hotel location for just under X €).

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Spot on Lis tener. I don't know any German who would lend his pride and joy status symbol to a family member let alone someone else.

 

Why did he ask you and not a relative or German neighbour?

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In the case you mentioned it would have been more polite to use an excuse. Which would still have been a "no", but in this case you put somebody who was asking a favor in the embarrassing postition of being flat out denied said favor. In using an excuse you would have given the other person a moment to compose themselves.

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except that I think Beuel is German, but nevertheless I agree with Nina based on my experiences here so far.

 

The problem I have found with offering excuses in any culture is that it legitimizes the question in the first place...like "I WOULD say yes if only..." and this leaves the topic open for another time. That's reasonable when it's basically true, but in a case like this I think it's rather absurd.

 

I think the other thing that is easy to underestimate if you are a native is that people (everywhere, from what I've observed) tend to "test" foreigners a bit more than they would fellow natives, especially when they know a request is unreasonable. So while this person would likely never dream of asking a German neighbor to borrow the car, it's worth a go with the Aussie who might not know any better.

 

The number of times this has happened to me, in circumstances trivial to very damned important, is disconcerting indeed.

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I don't think it is testing, I hazard a guess people feel more comfortable asking because Germans are generally not that open and friendly towards mere acquaintances or neighbours. They probably think the relationship is closer than you feel it is.

And if you just say no or use an excuse to not hurt feelings depends entirely on the relationship and situation. Anyway, I think it's not a major faux pas, just something people have to get used to, because there are personal differences too. Some Germans have no problems saying no, some do.

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Sorry.. I was interrupted when I wrote the previous comment so it was short.

 

I have taught English. So.. you practise asking people for help and ask something like, "Sonja, could you babysit for me next Friday?" "No." And I tell them that in the UK at least, when you have to say to someone that you cannot help them, you first give an apology or some other softening words and then you EXPLAIN why you can't.

 

E.g.

"Sonja, could you babysit for me next Friday?"

"Oh, I'm sorry, but I've already got something arranged for that day."

OR

"Oh, I'd love to be able to help you, but I'm afraid I have no experience with children and I'd be too afraid of doing something wrong. I could ask my friends and see if they can recommend someone."

OR

"I'm sorry, I'm going out on Friday. I could manage Thursday if that would be of any help."

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I don't think it is testing, I hazard a guess people feel more comfortable asking because...

 

it is a testament to your integrity, that you cannot even fathom such a thing. Of course if you found yourself the German in one of lisa's scenarios you would not be trying intentionally to get one over on another person simply because they are a foreigner. Pretty sure that it does happen, though--by people perhaps a bit less scrupulous than yourself.

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Hey folks,

 

This has become a funny thread. I used to be based in Thailand - running a business there. The etiquette trainers explained that, in Thailand, it is rude to say "no". And that if you invited a person to (say) a party, they would always say "yes" even if they had no intention of coming. That was the polite thing to do. The logic was 'if you invite me, and I say no, you would be disappointed twice - once when you invited me (and I said no) and once when the party happened (and I wasn't there). But if I say "yes" and don't come, then you are only disappointed once - and you may not even notice.' (My poor farang translation.)

 

Oddly Germany seems similar. If I ask to borrow something, then a German may feel guilty if they say no. They might feel that I am "applying pressure though feelings of guilt". So they may say yes anyway. But will then go VERY quiet. And a German friend explained that was the meaning of "Keine Antwort ist auch eine Antwort". The person asking is meant to understand that the "going quiet" means that the real answer was "no" all along.

 

Anyway will practice my "no's" and carefully watch for "going quiet" times.

 

Thanks for all the input!

Michael

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