Zoë Blade's notebook

Ask Culture vs. Guess Culture

Ask Culture vs. Guess Culture is a clash of communication styles.[1]

Specifically, some people would rather everyone simply explicitly ask for what they want, and risk being openly denied. Conversely, other people would rather everyone subtly hint at what they want instead, and in turn proffer things they think others might want. This can even go as far as offering things you don't actually intend to give, with the assumed understanding that the offer will be refused just as politely as it was made.

Being explicit is more practical and efficient, and will avoid confusion, but may hurt people's feelings and face; using hints is more sparing of people's feelings and face, but some people may miss those hints.

Neither communication style is necessarily better than the other. They're simply optimising for different things. Problems only arise when someone tries to speak in one style, to someone who speaks in the other style. One person will come across as rude and blunt, while the other will come across as frustratingly cryptic, complete with fool's offers intended to ensnare the unwary. Neither style is inherently bad. It's the mismatch that causes issues, much like the double empathy problem.

Many autistic people are oblivious to hints, and need to speak directly. This makes us Ask Culture by default. This does not endear us to Guess Culture people.


  1. "What's the middle ground between 'F.U!' and 'Welcome!'?" Tangerine, Ask MetaFilter, Jan 2007

Communication: Ask Culture vs. Guess Culture | Body language | Implicature | Pragmatics | Saving face | Scripting | Shavian | Socialisation