Jan 112010

Lahic, Azerbaijan by indigoprime.

Many thanks to Andy Hockley for sharing this lovely story:

I was once told by someone from one of the Baltic States (sadly I can’t remember which one), that it’s necessary in that culture to turn something down 3 times, and on the 4th go accept it. I probed into this as it sounded fascinating, and it appears that this number is fixed and you really really have to accept on the 4th go. So in fact it seemed to me that it was all an elaborate game with an unchanging outcome, but she assured me that it did work in practice. I still don’t really know how.

Fascinating indeed. I read somewhere about some Americans who had someone from Azerbaijan staying with them. Their guest seemed to settle in OK and she was very pleasant until it came to meal times. Whenever they offered her food or drink, she refused and they were getting worried. Did she not like their cooking or was it their company?

They later discovered that in Azerbaijan it’s customary practice to refuse an offer the first time it’s made. It’ll get repeated and you can accept it politely later. I’m not sure whether it was on a specific third or fourth time or just thereabouts, but clearly it’s a habit Azerbaijanis will want to lose fast when they’re travelling, or they’ll get very hungry.

I wanted to include the incident in a book, but finding an Azerbaijani accent was a bit of a challenge for the audio recording crew. A bit of invesitgation revealled similar things can happen in  parts of China, but it seems to be associated with an older generation. And I gather similar things can happen in Iran too where it’s part of a broader system of T’aarof. But again, it’s disappearing with younger generations.

So if anyone knows of countries where this system is alive and well, please share. And I wonder, do you think younger generations in anglo English cultures might be getting more direct as well?

 Posted by at 5:59 pm

  5 Responses to “No, no, no, oh go on then”

  1. When I was living in S. Korea between ’94 and ’96, the custom was alive and well. In fact, I started to get frustrated because when I would say ‘no, thank you’ they would continue asking me. I finally asked why and was told that it was the polite way and it is really impolite to refuse after the third or fourth time so even if I didn’t want it, I should still accept whatever is being offered.

    My twin sister just had a foreign exchange student from S. Korea (who had lived many years in China) and she didn’t exhibit that behavior, but she could have been warned to answer yes or no directly or she might starve.

    Another area that frustrated me was when I would come into a room of Koreans, they would always ask me ‘have you eaten?’ and I would get so frustrated as I thought they were mothering me (I was quite young). I later found out it was the same as asking ‘how are you?’ in English. Have since learned that other languages have similar phrases like Finnish–one of their greetings is ‘terve’ which literally translated means ‘to your health’. So, sometimes even the greetings can be misconstrued like asking ‘have you eaten?’

  2. Oh interesting Holly! Oddly enough when finding that Azerbaijani accent became an insurmoutable obstacle, I asked an Korean-American friend if we could adapt and substitute. She hummed and haaed a lot, and I got the message that again it was dying out (like with your sister’s foreign exchange student) and I shouldn’t go there.
    But it sounds like I could go there if I reference it to the past.
    That ‘Have you eaten?’ one strikes me as very ritualistic: https://www.merican.vickihollett.com/?p=223
    I’d seen it as a bit of a let down when they had no intention of feeding me. Ha! It hadn’t occured to me that it could be annoyingly mothering before. Thanks Holly!

  3. Hi Vicki,

    To the best of my knowledge this custom used to feature in most of the Soviet Union. My wife (who spent time in several of the Republics as she was growing up) tells me that it was a sign of poor upbringing to accept anything immediately. It appears to be on its way out the door though, at least in Russia.


  4. I’m reminded of haggling.
    My first big trip out of Europe was to Mexico and i found a really interesting guidebook before i went which was really a collection of anecdotes and stories rather than specific “go here do this”.
    I decided that i wanted to buy a hammock during the trip and that i would need to haggle.
    For months i researched everything there was to know about hammocks and identified the village way south where i would make the purchase and trained myself to recognise perfect weave, masterful technique and perfect balance.
    My three month visit started in the North, after crossing the US border, and one idle afternoon waiting for a bus i found myself wandering in a small market and i decided to reinforce my knowledge of hammocks by looking at some examples.
    I found some , fingered them, inspected them, separated fibres and then wandered off.
    “hey, gringo, you wanna but hammock”
    ‘No, gracias, it’s ok”‘
    “I make special price..”
    “No, it’s cool, i’m not interested, thanks.”
    ‘4oo pesos.”
    “No, thanks, i’m really not interested.’
    “300 pesos’
    “Thanks, it’s a really nice hammock but i don’t need it.’
    “Ok, 200 pesos”

    I really knew i was going to buy a hammock in the village that made the best ones in Mexico so i really wasn’t interested.

    And i walked away.

    “100 pesos”.

    And i got on the bus.
    And i sat there , looking out of the window, thinking about all the research i had done.
    THAT hammock had ticked off against EVERY check that answered the question – is it the best?
    Except – village.
    I NEVER found another hammock even a bit close in the next three months of travel!

  5. Oh welcome John and thank’s very much for this! Time’s are changing all ovr it seems

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