Well, the UK seems to me to have transformed from a fairly strict culture of no when I was growing up to a “sure, we can do that” one now
Bit of a negative column this month. Given recent events, I’m sure you’ll understand why. There seems little to be positive about at the moment. I’m completely ignoring Christmas cultural differences as I’ve written about them extensively in previous years. Instead, I’m going to write about a pet hate of mine from time immemorial (as you can see, I’m also in the mood to exaggerate). What I’m going to write about is “the culture of no”.
When you travel and visit or live in other cultures, some things quickly stand out as being different. A “can do” versus a “no can do” attitude is one of those things. Over my twenty plus years here I’ve got used to the prevailing “no can do” attitude or “the culture of no”, certainly much more ingrained here than in other cultures. And before you start getting all upset about it, just do a bit of travelling and you’ll see what I mean.
When I lived in Germany all reasonable requests were considered, analysed, checked, double-checked, re-checked and then usually accepted by the recipient, whatever the context. In the US, people seem to bend over backwards to say yes to you, although many would cynically claim that’s just because they want your money. It does, however, make life a lot easier when you want something and people make an effort to get it for you. My experiences of Asia, and especially second or third world countries, were even more extreme in terms of people trying to help you get what you want... again money may have been the key to that. The same can’t be said of first world Japan, however, where it was more about not losing face, so whenever you asked for something they would make every effort to try and get it for you so as not to seem inadequate in the eyes of a westerner. Some extreme generalisation going on here, I know, but that was my overriding impression. When I lived in Australia people were so laid back they wouldn’t say yes as such, more like “help yourself if you can find it”.
And what of my own native culture? Well, the UK seems to me to have transformed from a fairly strict culture of no when I was growing up to a “sure, we can do that” one now. I’m always surprised when I go to visit friends and/or family at how likely people seem to be to say yes to a request nowadays.
So what’s my point? The point is contrasting cultures. My wife and I recently tried to buy a household appliance from a major store here. First the assistant said she couldn’t order it or even get the details on the screen, although the product did actually exist. After being sent to another branch, we were told it wasn’t available anymore, until we insisted the other store had said it was and then the assistant suddenly agreed, but couldn’t order it for some nonsensical reason or other. You can get pretty sick of having reasonable requests turned down. And I wish I could be more optimistic, but whatever happens on Dec 21st, I have the feeling that “no” will ultimately be what we hear afterwards. I’m sure many Catalans know what I mean.