Saying ‘No’

July 25th, 2016 Sections: From an Expat, Life In Kyrgyzstan

forbiddenSometimes, people jokingly tell me that after twenty one years here in Kyrgyzstan, I have become Kyrgyz … or at least half-Kyrgyz.

After five years it is possible to apply for a residence permit – which I have done – or even for a Kyrgyz passport … but, as that involves giving up my British passport, (with some exceptions, dual nationality is not permitted under Kyrgyz legislation), I haven’t taken that step.

However, it is true that in some other, more informal, respects, I have, somewhat, ‘gone native’.

For example, I was told many years ago that people here don’t ever want to give ‘bad news’ … they don’t want to disappoint or offend … so they find ways of avoiding it … saying something like, “that it is a good question” – but never answering it; putting off a definite decision or opinion with a ‘Let’s see …’ perhaps backed , ‘… without  making any promises’); evading the issue, perhaps by addressing a different point, … and, of course, using the time honoured Maybe …

Just like the Japanese, apparently, have thirty odd ways of saying ‘No’ without actually using the word

 … and over the years I have found myself adopting this approach more and more.

yes-no-300x201Negotiators in hostage situations, for example, are taught NEVER to No.

It’s final and closes doors.

In the event that you have to go back on your word, you’ve lost and given points to the other side …

… and, what’s more, raised the issue of whether your word can be trusted … if you can deliver what do actually promise.

It is much better, according to the accepted theory, to keep the dialogue open and use such weasel words as Maybe … Let’s see …, and there are advantages to adopting such a policy.

traffic lights


When I am asked to explain … I tend to refer to traffic lights.  Although there are some variations, in most countries they come with three colours …

  • Red – for Stop …which can be equated with No
  • Green – for Go … which can be thought of as Yes

and then there’s

  • Yellow, or amber, for WaitNot now, but later … which can be thought of as Maybe

Flashing amber, or Red and Amber together,  and even Green Arrows can also have meanings attached to them …


By keeping ‘doors open’, however, hopes remain, and they could well be forlorn hopes … and in some cases it is not fair and reasonable to keep those hopes alive if there no chance of the hope being fulfilled.

There are times when it is necessary to say ‘No’ … and sometimes one has be emphatic about it … ‘NO!!!‘.


When I was a teacher, I had a colleague whom I respected very much.  She was one of three colleagues whose instinct I would have accepted unreservedly … at least as something worth pursuing even if it contradicted my own … no, especially when it contradicted my own.

We all make mistakes, and it is possible that my instinct was letting me down … but theirs rarely ever seemed to do so.  It helped that all of the three were rarely adamant and simply they expressed their feelings as suspicions and questions that were worth investigating … and, off the top of my head, I cannot think of occasion where their instinct let them down.

On those occasions, I would stop, do a double take, and then follow up on what they had suggested might be the case.

There was one occasion, however, where I thought that she was perhaps a little unfair.  In one class she had a pupil who would invariably raise their hand and ask to go the toilet … and they had it perfected ‘off to a T’.  In theory, there are plenty of breaks in the course of the school day when pupils (and staff) can visit the toilet, so there should be no need for anyone to need to go during the course of the lesson.  Leaving the class can be disruptive to the flow of the lesson and can mean that they miss some important point of explanation.  Also, it’s not good for people to be wandering around the building at times when it is likely there will be nobody else around … who knows what mischief they might get up to.

6359524536576What don't you understandWell … for some reason, on one occasion my colleague decided to put her foot down and say No … and the pupil was somewhat astounded … and repeated the request, only to be turned down a second time … and on the third request, my colleague asked “What part of the word No do you not understand?  the N or the O?

Apparently, the sarcasm worked … and no more requests were forthcoming … and the child was not put to any apparent discomfort, … and no puddles appeared on floor.

I don’t think I would have used that particular riposte in similar circumstances, I can think of others when I might have felt it appropriate.

The riposte that I usually use is “How often do I actually say No? … Not very often, … so when I do say it, please note the fact I have made a positive decision … for whatever reason … and accept it.”

To be fair, normally, I do try to explain my reasons.


Well, over the weekend, I was given a question … and, to be honest, I really should have said ‘No’ … but I fell into the trap of not wanting to disappoint or offend, and so, at least at first, hedged around the question … not saying Yes, not even saying Maybe … but not saying No, … at least, that is until I felt myself being pushed into a corner and needing to quench the flames of eternal hope that is trademark of people here.

Eventually, in the end, I found myself saying, “I am sorry, but so there’s no misunderstanding, I am afraid the answer is the answer is No – I can’t help you.”


To be fair, I probably should have said it a little earlier than I did.




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