A/N: Another in the series of cultural and linguistic misunderstandings. Gosh, Minbari culture sure is complicated, ain't it?
Disclaimer: Babylon 5 is owned by JMS, WB, etc. Not by me. This is just for fun, people.
A Simple Yes/No Question
"John, are you awake?"
"No." The sheets rustled, and John snuggled up against Delenn as best as he could given the incline, nuzzling her neck.
Delenn was silent for a moment, then asked, "Why would you say 'no' if you are obviously awake?"
John chuckled quietly. "Well, it's just funny when someone asks whether you're awake or asleep, right? Cause if you're asleep, you're obviously not going to answer."
"Yes, but I did not ask you if you were asleep, I asked if you were awake."
Now it was John's turn to be confused. "What's the difference? I mean, either way, if I'm sleeping, I won't answer, right?"
Delenn turned to face John in the dim light. "But it would be rude to ask if you were still asleep, because then you would have to say 'no.'"
Another pause. John queried, "So why isn't it rude to ask if I'm awake? I still don't get it."
"Ah. I understand the confusion now. In Minbari culture, it is more polite to ask a question where a 'yes' response would be expected, than one where a 'no' response would be expected."
"Um." John pondered this for a moment. "How come?"
"Well, it is considered more polite for a person to answer a question with 'yes' than with 'no.' So by phrasing the question in a way that will most likely allow the other person to say 'yes,' you are giving the other person a better opportunity for politeness to you."
"Hmph. So let's see if I have this straight. If you asked me if I were asleep now, I would have to say 'no,' and I might feel that I had been rude by answering a question with a 'no,' right?"
"But it's okay to ask if I'm awake now, since I wouldn't possibly say 'no.'"
"Exactly!" Delenn responded enthusiastically.
John sighed. He sat up, and passed his hand over the bedside light to turn it on. "Delenn, I'm gonna be in big trouble when we move to Minbar. I don't think I'll ever be able to open my mouth without offending someone."
"Mm, I have been thinking about that problem."
Delenn scrunched her brow ridge. "Why 'uh-oh?'"
"Well, I figure you have a plan, is all. And it just seems that I have a way of messing up your plans."
"In fact, I do have a plan. Perhaps you will find it 'funny' that this plan is what I was thinking about when I asked if you were asleep."
"Yeah," he frowned slightly, "that is funny."
"If it is funny, why are you frowning?"
"Well, it's strange funny, not ha ha ha funny." John sensed another diversion coming on. "But anyhow, what's your plan?"
"A few months ago, Sech Turval, one of the Ranger instructors, came to the station with hist students Tannier and Rasthenn."
"Yeah, those couple of days would be pretty hard to forget." Especially after I had to sleep on the couch for two nights. "Was he the Religious caste one or the Warrior caste one?"
"He is Religious caste. One of his many duties with the Rangers is instructing non-Minbari Ranger trainees in Minbari language, culture, and etiquette. In fact, non-Minbari Ranger trainees are not permitted to leave the Ranger training compounds until they complete the his first course."
"Hmph. Somehow I don't think that I'd fit in real well with a bunch of new Ranger trainees – I mean, they would have a pretty hard time with having Mr. President in their first-grade class, right?"
"John, let me finish; that is not the plan at all. Sech Turval is taking a leave from the Ranger training, for about eight weeks, and has asked to spend that time here on the station. He sent me a message yesterday asking if you would be interested in some individual instruction in his specialty areas."
John hmphed, though with an intonation that suggested agreement rather than skepticism. "Now, that's not a bad idea. Are you sure he wouldn't mind?" He backpedaled quickly, not wanting to begin another misunderstanding. "I mean, I suppose he wouldn't mind, if it was his idea. So what I'm trying to say, is yes. I think that'd be a great idea."
Delenn smiled. "Good."
"Good." John smiled too. "And, as long as we're on the subject of intercultural relations, I've got an idea too..."