The Art of “No”

“No” is a word very common in every language, and it is a weird one too! In different cultures, according to context, the degree of rejection can vary so much! And sometimes, it is very impolite to say a simple no! This may sound abnormal for people here, but it is true. Let’s find an example. Let’s say, we are in a family dinner. In America, if an elderly offer you a drink that you don’t want, you can just say a simple “No, thank you”, and that’s it, right? Well that’s not the case in Chinese or Japanese culture.

In China, sometimes it’s fine to say no, but most of the time, it is best to find an excuse like “Oh, I’ll have it later” or “Thank you, but I tried it already”. No matter what, you have to pretend that you have tried the drink or try it for real—of course, unless you have some medical reasons for not trying it. Nowadays, although the rules are looser, sometimes “no” is still an impolite word to say. In Japan, the rules are much more stricter. The word “no” is forbidden if you are speaking to an older generation. When someone, especially someone older, offered a drink to you, just accept it, even if you are just holding it in your hand and don’t drink it at all.

While there are many ways to say no while avoiding saying “no”, in some culture, accepting is more polite than rejection. It is not only a matter of preference, but also a show of your family culture and status. Of course, it is still good to know ways to reject, since they may really come in handy when cultures encounter.

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7 Responses to The Art of “No”

  1. nastassiashcherbatsevich says:

    I liked that you wrote about this topic. I find that saying some things in Russian is not the same as saying them in English and vice versa. The same meaning simply does not carry across, whether it be serious or comedic. Also, your post reminds me of the saying “Its not what you say, its how you say it”. The meaning behind what you are trying to say may be one thing, but finding a polite way to say it is another.

  2. Nancy Zhu says:

    I enjoyed your cultural encounter a lot. As a Chinese student, I never really noticed that I wouldn’t say no for those reasons. I always thought that I was just never firm enough. I couldn’t say no to people even when I really need to. I tend to just brush it off with a “maybe later.” It’s also interesting that you also related it to other cultures.

  3. Rishi Ajmera says:

    Coming from India, I know exactly what you mean. If someone offers you something or asks you to do something, it’s very rude to just say no. You often have to try to get out of it with some type of excuse, like the ones you mentioned. However, it’s more the case when a younger person is talking to an older one. People of the same age don’t act the same way, unless it’s a formal encounter. Friends or family are more comfortable in that aspect.

  4. Luke O'Dowd says:

    Your post is very interesting. Even in America, I don’t like to simply say no to my grandparents. I think it’s more of a respect “thing” rather than culture. It’s very interesting how you have to make up an excuse in China and Japan. However, I find myself doing the same thing here.

    Great Post!

  5. Joseph Maugeri says:

    Chinese and Japanese culture are very different from my background of Irish/Italian. It is interesting to see the similarities though. Many of the Asian students at Baruch are relatable to me, yet some are very different. But Asians are discouraged from saying ‘no’ you say? Looks like I need to ask out an Asian girl then…

  6. wesleyyun says:

    That is a very interesting thing that you have noticed. It seems to me that cultures that are based off respect for elders tend to follow the trend of not saying no and simply accepting anything said or given by those who are older than you. I know that during Chinese New Year, I will not be saying no to those lovely red envelopes!

  7. isabelzhao says:

    I actually haven’t noticed myself doing this but now that you bring it up, I definitely agree with you! I catch myself saying “No, thank you” a lot but whenever I’m speaking to my parents or my relatives in Chinese, my rejection seems much longer than the usual three words. I agree with Wesley’s last line. Who would say no to those red envelopes?!

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