The other day the parent/friend group were all in the park. This group consists of the parents of kids that went to my daughter’s preschool.
Some we see every day, some we see every few months. Anyway, when I saw that everyone was here, I called my wife and suggested that she come down and sit in the cafe with the rest of us. But, she listed the litany of things she needed to do around the apartment (and yes, I picked up on the hint that these were somethings that I could’ve done instead of playing Minecraft).
So, I sat with everyone and a few minutes later my wife came out of the building and sat with us. Huh? I was clearly surprised and delighted. ‘I thought you said you weren’t coming?’ I said. ‘Well…’ she replied. And then one of the other mothers spoke up, smiling. ‘I’m guilty,’ she said, ‘I called her.’
So that’s Croatia. A place where you can’t refuse a request from friends. And like most Croatians, my wife didn’t say ‘No,’ to my request. She just made a list of obstacles preventing her from being able to say ‘Yes.’ ‘No,’ just doesn’t mean much in Croatia. It’s rarely ever said. Usually instead of ‘No’ you get an explanation of why whatever-it-is-your asking-for is just not possible. It’s like saying, ‘It’s not that I don’t want to do it for you, it’s just impossible, so…’ and then the person requesting the request is supposed to accept that it’s impossible.
In the States, on the other hand, we just say ‘No,’ with little thought about the relationship’s consequences. It’s normal. And it doesn’t seem to pose a problem. Though, after living in Croatia and ‘adapting,’ I think our easy use of ‘No’ does weaken the bonds that exist between friends, because in the American spectrum of ‘No’ there are a variety of reasons for saying ‘No,’ ranging from ‘It’s impossible’ to ‘eh, I don’t really feel like it.’ Should a friend really be able to just say ‘No,’ so easily?
One time I asked a student if, in Croatia, you can tell say ‘No’ to a friend’s request. She replied ‘Of course you can say no. It just means you aren’t friends anymore.’ In fact, the only time I ever hear anyone actually say ‘No,’ is when they are asked if they want more food. Every time I eat lunch with punica this happens. She asks if I want more, I say ‘No,’ and in the end I ponder the second serving on my plate, wondering how did it get there. And as I eat the food that I didn’t want, I realize just how in Croatia, the word ‘No’ is utterly useless.