Russians don’t always say what they mean. I’m not trying to argue that Americans always say what they mean or that Russians never say what they mean. But there are incidents.
If you offer to help someone, he or she will often decline two or three times before accepting the offer. This also means that if someone offers you something, don’t be surprised if they keep asking you.
Hostess: “Do you want more?”
Me: (it was good, but I don’t want to be a pig) “No.”
Hostess: “Are you sure?”
Me: (that means I probably offended her by saying no. What should I do?) “Ummm….I’m fine.”
Third party: “Of course she wants more. Give her more.”
Here’s a line that works sometimes: “No thanks, but it was very good.” That way you don’t offend anybody. But you have to say it with confidence, or they will think you are just being shy.
Also, sometimes Russians say, “Thank you, but no,” which confuses me because I think the “thank you” is a sign that they’re accepting, and start acting accordingly, until I hear the “no.”
In retrospect, I have also probably caused problems in situations of the following type:
Me: “Can I wash the dishes?”
Hostess: “No, no, relax.”
Now I know that if I want to help, I should ask two or three times, and perhaps begin to do it, so that they can’t refuse.
Also, if you want to present someone with money or if you bring a gift when visiting someone, you have to kind of shove it into their hands before they can give it back to you, and you will hear: “You didn’t have to bring anything! Why did you go and waste your money on this? I made plenty to eat.” (even though everyone knows that you aren’t supposed to show up empty-handed)
A few more examples:
Cashier: “Don’t you have any smaller bills? I can’t change this!”
Me: “Ummm, ummm, let me look.” (frantic search for change)
Cashier: “Fine, forget about it.” (pulls out change. Why did she make me tear apart my purse and make everyone wait if she had the change all along?)
Me: “Do you have any empty boxes I can have?”
Store employee: “We don’t usually offer that kind of service. (Yet starts walking towards the boxes) Shall I dissemble them for you?”
Me: (thinking yes, but trying not to be demanding) “Ummm, I can just carry them like that.”
Store employee: (taking apart the boxes even though I said he didn’t have to) “You won’t be able to carry them all folded up.”
I think I’ve confused myself.