There is No “No”

In many of the Eastern cultures, people don’t like to say “No” to a guest. Depending on the culture, it is either impolite, embarrassing, driven by a history of suppression, or in the case of Bali, it is simply impossible. There is no word for “No.” The closest translation means “Not yet.”

One simple word (or lack thereof), can shape a whole culture. If it’s after dark and you ask, “Did you go skydiving today?” The answer is, “Not yet.” Ask an 80 year old man if he has a twenty-year-old wife, and the answer will probably be “not yet.” While humorous in extreme cases, it leaves me with the sense of possibility in the culture. Not yet, but it may happen. Even when speaking English, I never hear a Balinese say “No,” it is always “Not yet.”

“Yes” is almost always a better answer than, “No”. Often, people just say what they think other person wants to hear and hope for the best. It’s only polite. If you ask for too much, the “Yes” answer should be heard as, “In your dreams.” If there is a communication problem the final answer will usually be, “Yes,” if only to end the awkward moment. In Bali, even with my closest Balinese friends and those with the best command of English, when given an either/or choice, the answer is “Yes.” “Should I pick you up at 8 or 9?” “Yes.” “Will the container be stuffed today or tomorrow?” “Yes.” It’s technically correct, but frustrating to the man from the land of black or white, yes or no.


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Having journeyed to the Far East and Asia over 20 times in the past 20 years, I’ve been intrigued and inspired by the ingenuity, craftsmanship, balance and human spirit that have gone into the making of those works I have seen and collected.

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