When “Non” Means “Oui”

Aisha was telling me about an anecdote with her French parents-in-law. Her mother in law was washing the dishes and Aisha asked “May I help?”.And she answered, “No, it’s fine. Don’t worry.” So Aisha left her to this task. The same situation happened again. Twice. But she could feel something was wrong. (At this point in our conversation, a voice in my head screaming WARNING! She wanted your help of course!)

Aisha told me that her French husband had to explain to her that in these cases, “Non” means “Oui, bien sûr.” So she understood how indirect we are and always helped, even if her mother-in-law was politely declining. Once Aisha got the point and insisted, her relationship improved with her mother-in-law.

How to identify a false “non”? A false “non” is a polite habit. We honor our guest or our friend or a stranger by saying “I can do it myself” but help is of course always welcome. Or we would actually LOVE to say yes, but politeness urges us to say “non.”

This should turn on a red light in your brain:
– You could actually help.
– The person is “obliged to say no”: you’re a guest, not on the same hierarchy level, you’re new in the family.
– You know the person would love to say yes. Her eyes say yes.


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