Ask versus Guess

16 02 2011

I find myself fascinated by a concept that I heard about recently: the difference between Ask Culture and Guess Culture. Here’s an excerpt from the explanation of this concept on MetaFilter:

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.


Thing is, Guess behaviors only work among a subset of other Guess people — ones who share a fairly specific set of expectations and signalling techniques. The farther you get from your own family and friends and subculture, the more you’ll have to embrace Ask behavior. Otherwise you’ll spend your life in a cloud of mild outrage at (pace Moomin fans) the Cluelessness of Everyone.

By inclination, I am a Guesser – for me, there’s nothing worse than being presumptuous or wearing out my welcome. I have no idea whether that’s due to nature or nurture. I’m slowly trying to work my way out of that.

Today, this song came up on my iPod – Clem Snide’s “Joan Jett of Arc”:

This song just seems so peaceful, somehow. (Warning: this video had just over 200 hits, and there’s no other version I could find. Which suggests that the copyright holder is removing all recordings of this song. Apologies if it is gone by the time you read this.)




One response

12 03 2011
Craig B

Being English at the core, my family are rabid Guessers – layering everything in nine layers of tact and pomp.

I do everything I can in the world to embrace Ask behavior though because I hate the Guesser in myself. I am still trying to launder it out of myself, 21 years after leaving home.

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