An etiquette thread brought back to my mind a phenomenon I don’t quite get.
Sometimes, people will offer something and if that offer is taken, the offerer will take offense. Or the person receiving the offer will refuse it a few times before accepting it even though he wanted it all along.
It seems particularly common in some coun tries like Iran (tarof), Pakistan (takalluf) and China. There, it’s only on the 2nd, 3rd or 4th offer that you’re supposed to accept an offer. Accepting it before then can be held against you. To some extent, this already exists in Western countries, especially when it comes to paying for dinner or dates.
I don’t see why people think it’s worthwhile to engage in such a practice. It has the potential for misunderstandings; if one person thinks that you’re only supposed to accept on the 4th offer and the offerer thinks you’re supposed to ask 3 times, the offerer could give up on the 3rd offer and the recipient would not be getting what is offered even though he wants it and the offerer wanted to give it.
If the offerer wants to make a purely formal offer without wanting to deliver and thinks you’re supposed to ask 3 times before getting the real answer while the recipient thinks the real answer is given the 2nd time, then the recipient could accept the offer and the offerer would have to deliver even though he didn’t want to.
It seems to be about proving you’re a good host (on the part of the offerer) and not greedy (on the part of the recipient). But if it’s well understood that you’re supposed to offer 3 times, then the first two replies are worth nothing and the 3rd reply is equivalent to the 1st one.
I.e.: If I’m greedy and am offered something, I will know quite well that you’re supposed to offer 3 times and I’ll just say yes on the 3rd offer.
It creates a situation where people being offered something have to guess if the offer was genuine or a trap for them to fall into. They’ll be seen as rude if they believe that what the other person said was what he meant or if they don’t have the same expectations concerning how many times you’re supposed to refuse.
So, what’s the utlity of taking part in such practices?
Is it more common in some countries than others? If so, why?
Because I want to get rid of that damn coffeecake and I will keep insisting you have a piece until you break down and do, that’s why. Now, while I’m up, can I get you a coffee? How about some tea? Sparkling water?
There aren’t many places in American business where haggling is the norm, but there are a couple like buying cars or real estate. I think the whole thing dumb and I go out of my way to thwart the whole custom. It tends to throw people off but also works. When buying houses or cars, I just tell what I am going to pay. This is all based on research and what I think is a good deal for me overall but fair enough for them as well.
When they come back with a counter-offer, I just say that they must have understood but if we want to throw out random numbers, it is my turn and I will give one even more favorable to me. They laugh nervously like it is a joke and I tell them I already made offer and stop wasting everyone’s time and take it or leave. They usually take it but not always but I don’t care either way. I make it clear that I will find somebody that will. I want to buy something for a certain price under certain conditions, not do an elaborate social dance.
There’s no “utility” at all. It’s a social ritual that has no more purpose than saying “God bless you,” when somebody sneezes. Nothing more complex than the customs of a particular group.
In the culture I grew up in, if someone offered you something, you said yes or no depending on whether you wanted it or not. If you said no, that was it. My husband’s family had the opposite – if you said no, it just meant you didn’t want to seem greedy. If I really didn’t want the head cheese or smoked fish or whatever, I had to refuse multiple times and my MIL still thought I was somewhat rude. I thought she was rude by not believing me and trying to force stuff on me that I hade already said I didn’t want.
My father’s family were German immigrants and in their culture the price was the price; to say otherwise was dishonest. To question the price would have been tantamount to calling the seller a liar and a cheat. My husband is exactly the opposite. He is the nightmare of every car dealer he’s ever bought from. The “negotiations” take hours and hours. Sometimes days. His mother was worse. I refuse to be present during these negotiations; it gives me a headache.
Like MLS, we have the same cultural divide in our house. I was brought up Italian-American. You are always being offered food or drink. The reciprocity is what makes the relationship, so we make it really elaborate.
A: What would you like to drink? [This means: I have a child or guest in my house.]
B: I’m all right, thanks. [This means: I want a drink, but I don’t want to seem greedy. If you pour me one I’ll drink it, but if you didn’t really mean it you’re not obligated.]
A: I’ve got wine, beer, coke, water… [This means: No, I’m serious. I’d feel like a bad parent / host if you just sat here consuming nothing.]
B: Water’s great, thanks. [This means: Ooh, beer sounds nice.]
A: Well, I’m going to have a glass of wine. [This means: I know you don’t want water. What do you really want?]
B: That would be great. Or maybe a beer? [This means: I want beer.]
It’s even worse with food. This utterly mystifies my partner, who is British and who offers only once, but gets mad if you refuse. Culture is arbitrary, but it runs really deep.
My MIL thought I was rude because I would not say yes to stuff I hated. I had been raised with the idea that if you said, “No, thank you,” that was the end of the issue. We eventually accommodated each other as she learned that I really would never eat some of the things she made, ever. And I learned to take a tiny bit to be polite, and then hide it under something else.
Dr. Drake’s description is right on target. It was exactly the same.
My parents were both of northern European background. My mom’s family had been in the U.S. for hundreds of years, but the culture is entirely different from the Mediterranean and eastern European one. In fact, as I learn more about various cultures, I think the Anglo-Saxon reserve is in the minority among world cultures. Isn’t the multiple asking, refusing, re-asking, plus the potential for haggling about purchase prices common in Asian cultures too? I really don’t know.
Because Humans are fucking insane and we have this odd bias against saying exactly what we want or are thinking because by the same token, we are all too willing to be offended by other people saying that they want or are thinking.
This is why the aliens want nothing to do with us. Because we’re INSANE.
In my WASPy American family, yes means yes and no means no. If someone offers you something, you either want it or you don’t and you say so. If you change your mind, the onus is on you to say something about it. Occasionally the host will ask again, but don’t count on it.
Chimes in as someone who just tells guests that they know where the fridge is for drinks. I do feel the need to offer food and drinks, but if they say No thanks, I assume that it means No. They know where the fridge is, afterall. I’ll bring drinks if they ask, heck, I’ll make food if they say they want some, but I just figure that they know how to do it for themselves.
Now, M is from a different area of the US. He’s constantly asking me if I want something to eat or drink seems offended if I get up to walk to the fridge to refresh my water. Gawd help me if I actually get a beer or something, he’s all over me, wanting to open it and give me a chilled mug.
I know that its just a cultural thing. Its still annoying. If I want a beer, I know where they are. If I want a mug, I know where they are as well. STOP with the pampering already!
I hate the game, too, but I played it all my life. I’m American, though, so sometimes I just wanted to cut to the chase and go “NO! I DON’T WANT ANY FUCKING CAULIFLOWER! I HATE THAT STUFF!” But I manage to refrain.
What it accomplishes? I don’t know that it accomplishes anything. It’s like this with everything - when your elders give you money, for example, you have to play the game, too, and I hate the money game, too. I just wish people would be frank. “Yes, please, I could use some gas money.” Or “No, I am treating you, so I don’t want any money.” HA! Like that ever works. We took the SO’s parents on a trip last weekend to Montreal, which was supposed to be a treat from us. I left with $200 in cash in my wallet…I came back with $140 in cash, because even as I spent it they’d give me (and him) money back. And we had to play the game Every. Damn. Time. Most of the time I just let him battle it out.
Anyone who’s ever seen Father Ted knows how it works in Ireland.
‘Will you have a cup of tea?’
‘Ah, no, I’m grand.’
‘Ah, you will.’
‘Ah, go on go on go on go on go on…’
The purpose, as far as I can work out, is for the guest to make it clear that he doesn’t want to put the host to any trouble, and for the host to make it clear that she really does want to give the guest whatever it is. It gets very confusing for people who come over here and think that when they said, ‘No, thanks,’ that clearly meant ‘No, thanks.’
He’s only Chinese by accident of family; he’s much more Westernized than me. Hell, he has less interest in other cultures than Americans do. His parents certainly do it, however. This is the last generation that will, too. We’re not having kids, and my SO’s elder brother married a white girl, so their idea of hospitality is “Help yourself to anything you want, the fridge is over there.” which I vastly prefer.
And of course there probably is variation in how Indian people do it. I can’t really say that I’ve noticed, though.
I sold a house recently. I told my agent that my asking price was firm. Someone made an offer that was 20 k less, so I countered with an offer 10 k higher. The people were pissed off and threatened to “report me”:dubious:.
I eventually got the price I was asking (though not from the pissed off folks).