Tuesday 5 October 2010

Asker or Guesser?

I republish this cute little essay from Christian’s e-mail as an addendum to our debate on “Etiquette”:

"Dear Philosophers,

Are you an Asker or a Guesser? The question was going round the internet a few years ago following an insightful post on the Metafilter community forum. The theory runs like this. If you have been brought up in an Ask culture your role models encouraged you to be straightforward and to declare candidly what you wanted, a piece of cake, a present; later on, a date, a pay rise, a favour – fully accepting that the answer may be negative. You don’t take a ‘no’ personally, and you believe the people who turn down your requests don’t mean it that way.

If you shy away from boldly asking, however, you may be a product of the Guess culture. You avoid “putting a request into words unless you're pretty sure the answer will be yes… A key skill is putting out delicate feelers. If you do this with enough subtlety, you won't have to make the request directly; you'll get an offer. Even then, the offer may be genuine or pro forma; it takes yet more skill and delicacy to discern whether you should accept."

As a boy I once spent a few days with a family where you didn’t ask for anything at the dinner table. It certainly trained you to anticipate the other guests’ needs: salt, a piece of bread, more water. It probably taught me too much, actually. I tend to be a Guesser when the time comes for asking favours. On the other hand I am hopeless at reading clues and deciphering hints. I was at ease in Russia, where people routinely and peremptorily demand your time, efforts and money, only to smile graciously if you tell them to get lost. Nice try.

Misunderstandings arise when Guessers meet Askers. The former view the latter as boor; the latter don’t perceive convoluted approaches, leaving Guessers in the agony of having to be more direct, or desist.

This country used to be part of the Guess universe, at least its elite were. Is it changing? I was having sushi the other day with a young student. He nonchalantly grabbed the last piece.

— What? he asked, seeing me rather indignant
— Shouldn’t you ask before taking the last piece?
— You wanted it?
— No
— So?

Maybe that’s the solution. Don’t ask. Don’t guess. Just grab.


1 comment:

  1. I must admit that the Guess Culture is asking for trouble from simpler souls who cannot bear to live in a society where deception and subtlety are the rules of the game, and hypocrisy is accepted as norm.

    On the other hand, I am not sure if you would agree, I found that Ask Culture has always been a particular phenomenon of American society where the meek, shy, introvert, polite Guessers would be crushed by the loud, bold, thick-skinned and unabashed Askers. Apparently this Culture is spreading thick and fast into Europe. Gentle and sensitive souls who used to obey the Etiquette of the “polite society” are turning into uncouth predators. The law of the jungle has finally triumphed over two thousand years of civilization on the Old Continent.