Askers vs. Guessers

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According to the Guardian, a short comment to a 2007 blog post that asked for advice about how to deal with a visiting friend has “achieved minor cult status online.” The poster and his wife were annoyed with someone who had asked if she could stay with them in their apartment for a few days and were anguishing over how to turn down the request politely. Andrea Donderi responded:

This is a classic case of Ask Culture meets Guess Culture.

In some families, you grow up with the expectation that it’s OK to ask for anything at all, but you gotta realize you might get no for an answer. This is Ask Culture.

In Guess Culture, you avoid putting a request into words unless you’re pretty sure the answer will be yes. Guess Culture depends on a tight net of shared expectations. A key skill is putting out delicate feelers. If you do this with enough subtlety, you won’t even 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.

Sadly, I’m a Guesser. But I wish I were an Asker, and I wish everyone else were too — though that’s assuming that Donderi is right about Askers all taking turndowns in stride. I have my doubts about that. Still, I hate Guess culture. And yet I’m a Guesser. We all have our little problems, don’t we?

But at least I learned about a minor internet tradition today. And now, back to my cave, where I have to neither Ask nor Guess. Can I just be a Writer instead?

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