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?