What is the midwestern rule of three asks?

You ask once to be polite.  You are declined once to be polite.

You ask twice to show you really mean it.

You ask a third time to seal the deal.

It is a delicate dance.  Here’s some examples.

Here A wants the last candy and B could take it or leave it.  [note– if it’s something that can be divided like a cookie it will continue to be divided until nothing but crumbs is left]

A:  Would you like the last candy?
B:  Oh no, I couldn’t possibly.
A:  Are you sure?
B:  Absolutely, you go ahead.
A:  If you’re absolutely sure [reaches for candy]
B:  Absolutely sure

Here A doesn’t want the last candy but B does.

A:  Would you like the last candy?
B:  Oh no, that’s very nice of you.
A:  Are you sure?  I certainly had more than my fair share.
B:  Well… it’s awfully tempting, but ….
A:  No, no, you definitely take it.  [Hands candy plate to B.]
B:  If you’re sure, I really appreciate it [takes candy]

Everything else is going to be a delicate negotiation between A and B to see who wants it most.  Generally the rule is if they both want something, then the host defers to the guest, but only if they’re 100% sure it’s equal wants.

Where I live, a lot of people think the third ask is really weird.  They’re like, I already said no.  But I can’t help it– it feels like the communication is unfinished if I don’t close the loop.  So generally, I’m like, I’m sorry I’m from the midwest I have to ask a third time just to make sure.

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14 Responses to “What is the midwestern rule of three asks?”

  1. CG Says:

    OMG, that video is so funny! There are some New Yorkers who rent a house in our neighborhood every summer while the owners live at their seasonal business and when they first came here they were super creeped out by how nice everyone was. They didn’t trust it. I think they’re used to it now. When my best friend (who is originally from the Midwest) first moved back here after a decade in California and we’d take walks, she was confused by how I seemed to know everyone we met. I finally explained to her that everyone just says hi even if we don’t know each other.

  2. Leah Says:

    My husband definitely does the three asks! I do sometimes too (I think from having parents raised in the midwest).

    One time, we were visiting friends of mine on the west coast. We spent the night and were leaving after breakfast. As we are finishing, they ask him if he wants another cup of coffee. He said “no, thanks,” so they poured out the pot. When we got to the car, he immediately said “we have to go get coffee!” Now I know to stop and ask him if he’s being Minnesotan when we are with friends who don’t understand.

  3. omdg Says:

    Did I tell you? I met Rick Berens at a recent anesthesia conference. He had the poster next to mine and we chatted. It was all I could do not to blurt out, “OMG I LOVE YOUR SON’S VIDEOS!!!”

    I can totally relate to this experience. After living in Philadelphia for 13y, my husband and I went to Canada for vacation and people were so nice and helpful I thought they might be serial killers or at very least about commit armed robbery. We had a similar experience moving back to the midwest two years ago. I was just so unaccustomed to people being pleasant and helpful.

  4. middle_class Says:

    Midwestern rule of three asks is so weird to me. I would totally be considered rude if I lived there!

  5. First Gen American Says:

    We don’t do it. Say what you mean! Don’t say no when you really mean yes. And it is also weird how someone who’s nice to you may not like you. How does one know who their real friends are? Here in Masshole-land, it’s pretty obvious. We don’t have to read the tea leaves and understand the many levels of nuance to know what someone means.

    I guess after 50 years, and in spite of my extensive travel, I’m still officially and unapologetically a crotchety New Englander.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      If you’re immersed in the culture you know. Silence does a lot of work in terms of who doesn’t like you.

      It’s funny because I always thought of midwesterners as being very forthright and honest (and they are compared to people in LA) but a lot of that is just me speaking the language.

      And I definitely prefer the Midwest door holding culture to New England’s. (Or the South’s.)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Also, I should be very clear— if the person accepts on the first ask that just means they really wanted it. And the other person is ok with that. There’s no lying. This is just a way of judging who wants the thing more.

      In the coffee example above the next Midwestern step would have been to say, if you don’t want it we’re just going to toss it out. Then the dad would have accepted on the second ask. The dance is in case the hosts still wanted to drink it and the dad could have gotten coffee out and been ok with that so they didn’t have to make another pot. The shock is that they dumped it out after the first ask.

      There’s no lie.

      (Also you don’t always do three asks only when there’s some uncertainty. If the hosts had said they just made a fresh pot or there’s plenty to go around the dad would have just thanked them and said something nice about the coffee.)

      • Harriet Says:

        Is this also Guess culture? So the guest can’t ask for coffee, but the host has to offer just in case?

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Maybe? I mean, I am pretty sure I can ask for coffee if I want it (but midwesterners are always pushing food and beverages on people, so it’s unlikely I’d need to ask– they might ask if they can get me anything to drink and I would say coffee would be great if it’s not too much trouble). But if I want the last candy in a dish my way of asking to have it is by asking if they want it first, whether I am the guest or the host.

        Like 3 asks isn’t for everything, just cases where you’re not sure how much effort something is going to be or how much someone wants something.

  6. C Says:

    thank you for the explanation! Also like the video

  7. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    I don’t think I could get used to that. I take people at their word, the first time. Multiple asks reminds me of my family who didn’t actually mean it as a question, they’re actually going to force you to do the thing whether you want to or not, they just phrased it as a question for .. I don’t know why. Or Green Eggs and Ham.

    When you say (being forthright and honest) compared to LA, what do you mean? I lived adjacent to LA all my life but I never know what people mean as a baseline for LA when they’re comparing their region’s mannerisms to LA. I am clearly inobservant in the few times I’m actually social. Or maybe this is my antisocial inexperience showing. And now I’m also curious about Midwest / New England / South’s door holding culture, too!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Like I said in response to FGA, it really is a question and it’s really about figuring out who wants something more. If the person really doesn’t want to give it, they won’t ask. If the person really wants the thing they’ll say yes on the first ask (with enthusiasm and gratitude). It’s just when there’s some uncertainty, it’s a way of showing that you care about what the other person wants as well.

      I think we have a series, “You know you’re an X” in our post history somewhere. You can probably find some of them by clicking the geography tag. It addresses door holding etiquette. (Briefly: Midwest: the first person holds the door for everyone (but not in such a way that anyone has to run– it really is about keeping heat or cold in buildings I think), South: men hold for women and it’s really irritating and inefficient if the man is behind the woman or way in front of the woman, New England: Door will hit the second person in the face because nobody else exists.)

      “Let’s do lunch” is probably the best example of LA seeming dishonest to someone not from LA. In LA it means, if the stars align we might do lunch sometime, but probably not. In the Midwest you then actually plan a time to do lunch together.

      • Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

        Ah! Ok I thought that the dance had to be danced even if the person definitely knew they wanted it, or definitely knew they didn’t want it. This makes more sense.

        Ahh, yeah that sound feel dishonest to me too. I suppose that’s because I was LA-adjacent, and not LA-proper.


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