Unlearning British Manners

Politeness is a weird thing. I saw something about this a little while ago, in a discussion about the way people speak to store staff in their home countries/states.

One person explained that, where they were from, people don’t exchange greetings of any sort with staff and just ask for what they want. To me this seems fairly rude. But when I read the explanation: that it was considered more polite to be to the point and not waste the staff member’s time, I understood. I also realised that I could never go to that state without pissing everyone off for wasting so much of their time.

When it comes to British politeness, we go through the strangest rituals in order not to seem demanding or rude, and end up asking for things in the most circuitous way possible.

For instance, where “could you pass the salt, please” would generally suffice, with a Brit you instead get:

I was wondering if you could possibly pass the salt, please?”

Of course, it depends on who you’re talking to, but still…

This becomes a problem when you’re trying to work out how to say something with the right level of politeness in another language, and try to do it as you would in British. It feels wrong to me to not start a request with a “Could you” or “Please” rather than starting with the object, as in Japanese. I’m surprised I haven’t given myself an ulcer from the internal flinch every time I ask for something. #Britishstress

It is very, very confusing for everyone involved, let me tell you. What doesn’t help is that Japanese also has its own version of excessively formal language, so both languages have screwed each other over pretty well.




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