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What does "YES" mean?

From the "Outsourcing is Problematic" topic, we find this URL: http://www.crmbuyer.com/story/35088.html.  In it, the author reminds us that "YES" in India can mean "I'll think about it, and I'll get back to you."  I noticed that different cultures do a lot of really different things with "YES".  For example, we had a Korean programmer at one point, and it became very clear to us that in Korea, it is considered insulting to say "NO" or "i don't understand" to anyone, so he would always say "YES" even if he didn't get it at all.  I would be that just the YES/NO cultural difference costs lots of companies lots of outsourcing money. 
Anyone else have more examples of how YES/NO work in various cultures?  (We can skip the old Matt Groening 'yes means no, no means yes, do you want me to hit you' routine!)

sir_flexalot
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

...and are there gender differences in the interpretation of these words?

Chris Peacock
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

NO

sgf
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

I'd guess that the principle that "YES" could mean anything, applies in English-speaking cultures as well.

With two major differences: first, it is not universal - there is a subset of people who will say what they mean; and, second, it isn't sanctioned by etiquette.

Fernanda Stickpot
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Interesting thing I saw once on TV is that Indians will nodge their heads sideways like one of those puppets that has its head attached to a spring to say yes in physical lang.

But to westerners the same movement can mean maybe or doubt.

somedude
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

"I commit to that"
"count me in"
"maybe"
"so far so good"
"ok, but please contact me again should you go through with this"
"damn, I forgot"
"I heard you, so you don't need to repeat"
"I'll take it into consideration"
"go on"
"I'm not sure where you are going with this, give me some more info"
"I'm not listening, but do go on"
"I just remembered where I've seen that girl before"
"hmmm, donuts"
"whatever"
"you've got pretty eyes"

Just me (Sir to you)
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

If you've worked in international settings, you've had the pleasures of mastering the advanced art of interpreting phrases like "the meeting starts at 9:00 am on thursday" in differenct cultural contexts. This saves you the embarrasments of making an ass of yourself by walking in at 9:01 am, while OTOH not wasting innumerable hours in a foreign office when the meeting might start at 3:00 pm that same day, unless Roberto doesn't show in which case we'll postpone till tomorrow.

Just me (Sir to you)
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

The Japanese also do not like to say NO. The word NO is somewhat rude to them. Which makes business difficult sometimes. Also, the negation of a sentence (the word NAI or verb ending MASEN) is placed at the end of the sentence (right after the verb) so if someone is going to have to say NO, they start talking quieter until the end of the sentence, by which time they are mumbling or whispering (and if you can't hear it, then it isn't rude or impolite). The sentence word order, very crudely, is: subject (sometimes left out), object (rarely left out), verb, negation, question-mark.

"We will get back to you," or "we will consider your proposal" are definately NO in a Japanese business setting.

Peter
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

> For example, we had a Korean programmer at one point,
> and it became very clear to us that in Korea, it is
> considered insulting to say "NO" or "i don't understand" to
> anyone, so he would always say "YES" even if he
> didn't get it at all.

I worked with a guy from China that did this too.  He would swear he understood, or that he would do something and then just wouldn't.  It was a nightmare working on projects with this guy.  Things just didn't get done, or got done wrong.

I think a lot of people wrote this guy off as a bad programmer, but that might not be right.  Maybe he was a great programmer and just didn't understand what people were asking for?  Either way, I guess the results are the same, eh?

Joe Blandy
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

We had a Russian programmer who did this, but I think it was simply because he was incompetent and was trying (badly) to cover it up by agreeing to everything and pretending to always understand (this guy NEVER asked questions until AFTER something of his was broken in production).

We called him Cosmo, short for Cosmonaut.  Good times.

muppet
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

We had an indian consultant who did this.  You would sit him down, say something like "We're not happy with your objectives.  You are doing XYZ.  We want you to do ABC.  You can do X if you want, just shorten it ..."

(We hired him to be an SQA guy, jump in on projects, and teach QA by osmosis.  He couldn't do that.  He wanted to spend a month interviewing people to create an "assessment" of our process and do some "recommendations.")

I couldn't get any traction.  He'd nod his head, say yes, and then NOTHING would change.  He'd keep doing XYZ.

So my manager tries.  Same thing.  She leaves the room saying "Do you see? Now he's got to do what we told him?"

I kinda look at her funny, then say "No, you don't get it.  NOTHING will change.  He'll find a way to re-define your words to keep doing XYZ and sorta-kinda-vaguely accomplish the ABC objectives."

Her response was, very politely "If he does that, we can deal with him."

NOTHING changed.  He "did that."  We dealt with him.  :-)

Wierd.  The way he behaved violates my sense of morals, but he did is so consistently, it MUST have been acceptable to him. 

hmm ...

All this from a quality guy.  Gives us a bad name ...

www.xndev.com (Formerly Matt H.)
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

I found a similar problem in Romania: if you ask a question, people will give an answer, whether they really know the answer or not.  Trying to find out the requirements to get a work visa there, I got three different answers...two of which were from the same person.  People acting in an official capacity seem to be loath to admit they don't know the answer, or to check to see whether the answer they're giving is right.

Kyralessa
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

I worked with an Indian contractor who did something similar.  She would never ask questions, always act like she knew what was going on, and would end up delivering the most bizarre, unmaintainable crap I'd ever seen. When I'd ask why she used these incredibly convoluted approaches to what seemed like relatively straight-forward problems (i.e., one API call she could have looked up rather than a page and a half of her own attempt to duplicate the API's functionality), she would get extremely defensive. It was later explained to me by a person who had lived in India for a decade that among certain castes, admitting ignorance or asking for help is a loss of face and a drop in caste.

Michael Ealem
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

>always act like she knew what was going on,
> and would end up delivering the most
>bizarre, unmaintainable crap I'd
>ever seen

I have consistently seen code like this from CCM 5 companies!  The entire point of the CMM is to get away from that kind of bogus stuff ...

goes and cries ...

www.xndev.com (Formerly Matt H.)
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

>> It was later explained to me by a person who had lived in India for a decade that among certain castes, admitting ignorance or asking for help is a loss of face and a drop in caste.

That is plain crap. Its just that some people are incomptenent bums. Everywhere.

.
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

admitting ignorance and asking for help is a loss of face and drop of caste in MOST corporate cultures.  The solution is to "suck it up" and "fucking deal with it, you self-important ass".  Same in any culture.

muppet
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

> that is plain crap.
Not to them it isn't. How many native Japanese and Chinese have you dealt with? Loss of face is a *very* serious matter to them.

Michael Ealem
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

"The Japanese also do not like to say NO. The word NO is somewhat rude to them."

what's interesting is that the opposite doesn't quite apply...

if you're asked a question and you have complete understanding and you answer with an "ok", "sure" or "alright", they'll assume you don't know a damn thing.  (they like "no problem", though)

its just a cultural communication barrier.  once you understand the nuances, you're good to go.

Ken
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

> I have consistently seen code like this from CCM 5 companies!

Yes, she bragged she came from a company in India that was CMM Level 5. Of course, she had only been programming for two years, and management left her in charge of the entire UI for our product, with no adult supervision....I finally got the project's two tech leads to sit down with me and review her code, as it was causing all of us an enormous amount of trouble. We took it to the Director of Engineering (whose pet  she was), and after all three of us jumping up and down and predicting the schedule was going to slip drastically unless we fixed it *now*, he finally agreed to the rewrite. Two weeks later both myself (the whistle blower) and Miss Trouble were let go.

Michael Ealem
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

In some situations, this may not have anything to do with cultural influence so much as simply the difficulty of working/living in a foreign-language setting.  Often times, when people don't speak a language well, they just tend to smile and nod, especially if they don't perceive the information to be important enough to decipher and would rather not deal with the frustration at that particular moment.

Joe
Wednesday, July 14, 2004


Michael, you must have worked with one of my current coworkers.


I went to her and said, here's the project.  I need you to do this portion as it'll work the best in Java and you're our (other) Java person.  She says okay and starts "working".


After two days, I come back to check on her, and she's trying to install the JRE (Java Runtime Environment).

I ask "why don't you install the jdk?  The jre is built-in"

Her response: "what's a jdk?"

Arg.

KC
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Michael;

"It was later explained to me by a person who had lived in India for a decade that among certain castes, admitting ignorance or asking for help is a loss of face and a drop in caste."

Michael, you are right! It do happens here in India. People would readily not accept their faults or ignorance. Caste's plays it's role in one form or the other. But now this is changing with time... 

Accepting...
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Accepting..., it happens in the USA, too. Causing my Director of Engineering to lose face by having to admit he was an idiot for hiring her in the first place and an even worse idiot for not having someone keep an eye on her was the proverbial "career-terminating move." I haven't worked since.

Michael Ealem
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Michael;

All I can say is you really had a bad time. Get over it, Michael!
Hopefully,you will get a good job as soon as possible.

Accepting...
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

"Yes, she bragged she came from a company in India that was CMM Level 5."

Also remember that in most third-world countries, what they call "engineers", we usually call "technicians".  And they often have very little formal education until adulthood (e.g. almost half of adults in India are completely illiterate), then may only take one or two storefront classes to be hired as a "programmer." 

We do a lot of software projects in Asia and S.E. Asia (government and civil projects) and typically their "expert engineers" will give us software requirements that just list all the hardware they want --  512MB RAM, monitors of a certain size, etc, then a small line will say "software package." And the "formal qualification test" will consist of noting the serial numbers on the computers and making sure they in fact have 512MB RAM, the CPU is in fact 1.0Ghz and the monitors are the correct size. And that clicking on the icon brings up the custom "software package", and that's it.

So when they claim to be "engineers" or "programmers,"  remember the standards and job duties are often different...

Bob
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Michael ;

"Causing my Director of Engineering to lose face by having to admit he was an idiot for hiring her in the first place and an even worse idiot for not having someone keep an eye on her was the proverbial "career-terminating move". "

Michael, why did you and your boss showed so much faith in her? People will often and always brag about themselves and their capabilities that they are this and that.... Some may even lie to you! You atleast need to be somewhat cautious. And I agree, you all should have atleast had someone to keep an eye on her.

Accepting...
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

> Michael, why did you and your boss showed so much faith in her?

I didn't -  I brought it to my boss' attention fairly early in the project, after an abortive attempt to get the young lady to re-examine some of her code and even going so far as to recommend the book that would show her how to do accomplish her assignment in a more efficient manner. He was "too busy" to look into it, and when I tried to get her to change her code, she took it personally. This lead to an "intervention" by the Director of Engineering, and I was basically told that she was doing "great", and to mind my own business. So I did, until the damage was so great that it threatened the entire project.

Michael Ealem
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

You will have to work with all kind's of people

1. who will never admit their fault and ignorance.
2. who will always admit their fault and ignorance.

The danger is when both_of_them are just not ready to LEARN. This young lady represents the first one. And you just can't help it! Sometimes you have to pay the price for someone else faults and short-comings. This is life! And is not always fair! Just get over it!

As far as your boss is concerned, he should have paid the desired attention. Probably,he had too much faith in her and was just giving a blind eye.

Accepting...
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Great thread. BTW, I learned as a teacher (dealing with non native english speakers) to ask "trick" questions.

E.g.,:

Instead of " Is it Ok if I postpone this test?"  or "Did you understand that?".

I might ask "Who would like me to postpone the test" or "Who is confused" followed by "Who understands".

This also deals with students who are shy about speaking up.

Silence is NOT consent.

Mr. Analogy
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

that you, Sathyaish?

muppet
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Mr. Analogy;
"I learned as a teacher "
A teacher! You might be joking, isn't it!
Anyway, no wonder why are your schools producing  so many individuals like M. Jacksons,Clintons...
Chill out!

Accepting...
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

I see incompetent people. They are everywhere. Some of them are even from North America.

A poor guy from a third world country
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

hahaha....
I feel "sorry" for you guys.
Take care.Bye.

Accepting...
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

"I see incompetent people. They are everywhere. Some of them are even from North America"

I would drop that 'even'. I don't see why american people should be less or more competent than everyone else.

.NET Developer
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

"I don't see why american people should be less or more competent than everyone else"

Because we produce more per capita -- goods and services -- than most other countries.

Incompetent people (and nations) are less productive.

Bob
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

It couldn't have anything to do with means of production, could it?

anon-y-mous cow-ard
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Competent people create efficient means of production?

Bob
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Bob?
Microsoft Bob, is that you?

You surely used to be competent and productive!

=)

Take it easy man. I really don't se why americans should be more competent. Your country is more productive. That's a fact. It might be because you have the means and the resources.

And don't come and tell me that all that whealth comes from competent productive work. Like what? Like war?

.NET Developer
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Ok. What percentage of foreign researchers are there at your research facilities creating all those means of production?

I supose they became compenent when they got they resident cards (I really don't know what is the correct term)

.NET Developer
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

> if you ask a question, people will give an answer, whether they really know the answer or not

Not just in Romania, that is how it is in the Southern US as well, unfortunately among doctors, lawyers and other professionals. If you go to see the doctor and he has no idea what is wrong with you we will NEVER refer you to a specialist. He will instead prescribe you Hydrocodone and Prozac, which is what these Southern doctors give to overone cegardless of their actual conditions.

Southern Baptist
Thursday, July 15, 2004

-----" Also remember that in most third-world countries, what they call "engineers", we usually call "technicians".  And they often have very little formal education until adulthood (e.g. almost half of adults in India are completely illiterate), then may only take one or two storefront classes to be hired as a "programmer."  "-------

This is balls. Job title inflation is everywhere, and if you are now seeing underqualified Indian programmers this is because demand has increased and is exactly the same as the West during the dotcom boom.

A third of India might be illiterate, but they aren't the ones working as computer programmers or IT staff. They probably have only ever seen a computer at the cinema.

To get back to the original poster YES. It is very common, and maddening, for Indian and South Asians to say YES, when they mean I HOPE SO.

This has nothing to do with caste. You see in in casteless societies like Sri Lanka or Saudi.

What I often see outside of programming is that you ask some Indians or Sri Lankans to do something and they say YES, they will,or worse, YES they have, and then work out among themselves how to do it. Most times they get it right so you never notice, but sometimes they get it very wrong. It's a question of not losing face, not  having the ability to ask the right question and sometimes simply not wanting to anger you.

In all fairness yesterday I got absolutely perfect treatment when I went to the local cellular phone company in Colombo to ask about GPRS and how to send messages using an email gateway. The receptionist rang up headquarters and insisted on asking exactly what I had asked her to. She then suggested it would save time if I went to another office in person and asked to speak to a particular named person whom she said knew exactly what he was talking about. She also warned me not to leave until I had an answer to my exact question - which I got.

I think the problem comes because in the US and UK the default answer is NO. Whilst this results in a justified reputation for surliness, it does mean productivirty increases by an order of magnitude.

Stephen Jones
Thursday, July 15, 2004

True that title inflation is everywhere - they have programs at ITT called "Software Engineering" that give you a "Bachelors Degree" after 6 months of being spoonfed. The graduates have no ability to design or program anything yet they believe they are hotstuff engineers becasue they just completed what they thing is a real Bachelor's Degree.

This is the best argument for REQUIRING a degree from a REAL college with a REAL CS program. At least you know that the graduates actually know how to program and then in the interview you can determine if they know how to program well. Will non-degreed applicants, or applicants with sham degrees or degrees from overseas institutions, its just not worth the time to interview them because 99% of the time they don't know anything and its not worth it to look for that 1% of the time exception.

Dennis Atkins
Thursday, July 15, 2004

Err, Dennis, "overseas" to you means non-US.

So, 99% of graduates from Oxbridge, the "Grandes Écoles" and the Inidan Insititutes of Technology aren't worth interviewing.

Just asking.

Stephen Jones
Thursday, July 15, 2004

What a load of boulderdash. There are not NEARLY enough people from REAL etc . etc ... Hello, reality here.

You gonna hire a programmer, read their code. It says it all, if you can read.

About the YES business. Having live in NYC and Israel, Greece, Thailand and Brazil ... personally I think it's pretty obvious when Yes means No and No means maybe and Yes means Yes, if you are perceptive and paying attention.

I have seen plenty of americanos who blankly agree to do x,y,z when they've been given bsht.  It drives me nuts :)  cus I say they should push back and get good specreqs before they just eat the crap. Half the time these people end up pusing it to me anyhow and then I rise my ugly head asking questions.

What is amazing are the Americans who just would like to hope that someone from country X is like Billy down the street. A little sensitivity goes a long way. It's important to recognize when you aren't in Kansas.

me
Thursday, July 15, 2004

Earlier someone said Americans were "smarter."  No studies show that smart people come more from smart parents than dumb parents, but America does get a pretty high influx of intelligent people.  Intelligent people are more likely to see a nasty situation arising in their own country and flee while they are able to...  Look at the number of German scientists that worked on the Manhattan project and American rocket research during WW2.

Steamrolla
Friday, July 16, 2004

+++Intelligent people are more likely to see a nasty situation arising in their own country and flee while they are able to...+++

as evidenced by the current situation in the US

wait.. nobody has a clue.

muppet
Friday, July 16, 2004

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