Yes or No?

To be or not to be, that is the question.


After moving to Canada from China, I found that to answer yes or no to a question, that is also the question.


I will tell you two of my personal stories, to show you that the custom and logic behind saying yes and no are very unlike or even contrasting from culture to culture.


It’s important for us to keep open minded, as we live in Canada, where the world meets.


Story #1. J with ribs

It happened when J first met my parents. It’s when we got married, and my parents came to visit us in Canada. They prepared delicious stewed ribs, and invited J over for a dinner.


My father speaks a little English, and he showed his hospitality to J during the dinner.


When J finished the ribs in his plate, my father asked, “Do you want more ribs?”

“No, thanks.” J replied politely.

My father THEN put one more piece for J.

“Ok, perhaps he didn’t understand me”, thought J and silently he completed the extra piece of rib.

“Do you want more ribs?” My father asked again.

“No, thanks. I am really full”. This time J even rubbed his tammy to show my father that he couldn’t no more.

“More! More!” My father insisted and put two MORE ribs into J’s plate.


“What is going on? Why am I keeping getting ribs? ” J was confused and asked me after the dinner.


Ahuh! This is the so called  “Pseudo Decline” phenomena. In China, when you are offered with a gift or food, the custom is to refuse several times before accepting it. The giver will continue to insist that you take it. Otherwise it can be seen as greedy if you accept right away. In this case my father took J’s answer as Pseudo Decline by default.


Even after 10 years of marriage, J still remembers this lesson learned and checks with me from time to time. “ So…when you said no, was it a Chinese No or a English No?” (LOL)


Lesson:  keep open-minded. We need to understand what people want and what people say they want are not always the same things. And it is up to us to figure out.

How? These are my favorite quotes from the book “The little prince” – “Language is the source of misunderstandings. One must look with the heart…”


Story #2. Tearoom yes/no dead loop   

Before I start the story telling, I need to explain to you the grammar when you respond a negative interrogative question in Chinese. For instance, when I ask you “Don’t you like the this blog?” in Chinese, it means that I assume that you don’t like my blog, and your answer would be corresponding to my assumption.


If {you really don’t like it (my assumption is correct)}

You’d say “YES, I don’t like it”

Else if{you like it (my assumption is wrong)}

You’d say “NO, I like it”


While in English you’d answer yes if you like it, or no if you don’t like it.


Now let me demonstrate how the difference of two logics could end up in a dead loop.


When I was drinking my fancy afternoon tea at a tea room, a conversation between a waitress and a Chinese customer caught my ear.


The waitress asked “ Do you want tea?”

“No”, the Chinese customer responded.

Just to confirm, the waitress asked again, “So you don’t want tea?”

The Chinese customer agreed “Yes.”

The waitress was confused. She then asked again, “ Do you want tea?”


“So you don’t want tea?”



The loop went on and on for 5 or 6 times, until the waitress figured out that “Yes” means “Yes, you are correct that I don’t want tea”.


This story reminds me what Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philosopher said, There are no facts, only interpretations”.


Lesson: keep open-minded. We need to understand there are unlike perspectives for the same fact or situation, and respect people with different point of views.


Now you’ve heard my J and ribs story and tea room yes/no dead loop story.


What do you think? “To answer yes or no to a question, is that a question for you now?”


I believe you have also experienced culture differences when you travel or in your everyday life.
My message to you is to keep open-minded. Because when the mind is open, the heart is open.