British manners

People here say “yes, please” a lot.

Let’s say I ask—as I often do when someone stops by—“Do you want a cup of tea?”

No one says just plain old “yes,” and not many will say, “I’d love one.” They say, “Yes-please,” and it’s more or less one word, which is why I stuck that hyphen in there. Imagine a good little girl who folds her hands in her lap and never kicks the chair legs. That’s what they sound like.

Unless they go from polite to self-effacing and say, “Only if you’re making one anyway.”

God forbid I should want to go out of my way for them because they’re friends.

But the pleases matter to people here. Really, really matter. As in, if you don’t say “please,” it doesn’t matter how nice you’re being, you’re still being rude. It runs me into trouble because—I’ve come to realize—the American version of asking for, say, half a pound of lunch meat politely is to start the sentence with, “Can I have…?” and end it with “lunch meat,” not “please.”

Why not? Be-fuckin’-cause. (Sorry. It’s a post on manners. Manners make me nervous. Being nervous makes me swear. So do other things, including air and water.) We say it that way that’s just how we say it. Don’t look for too much sense in these things, but if I had to come up with an explanation I’d say it’s because we’re doing business, not asking a favor.

Screamingly irrelevant photo. These are whatsit flowers. In bloom. In our yard. They’re wonderful –the slugs don’t eat them.

Over here, what people seem to hear in can I is something along the lines of “is it physically possible?” Which makes them want to say, “Of course you can bloody well have half a pound of lunch meat. It’s right there in the display case. We’re trying to sell the stuff. Why couldn’t you have it?”

Although of course they don’t. Because they’re very, very polite. Mostly—but that’s a different post.

As a side issue, over here half a pound makes it sound like your talking about money. Ask for a quarter of a kilo. Ask for 250 grams. It’ll be close enough.

Anyway, to the American ear what’s physically possible isn’t the point of “can I?”. Maybe we say it to imply that the person behind the counter’s being nice in selling it to us. Maybe that’s not what’s under the surface at all. Maybe we don’t know what the hell we’re implying. It’s politeness. It doesn’t have to make sense.

In Britain, though, repeated drops of please and thank you are what you use to oil your way through the day. The country’s mind-bogglingly mannerly, but people over a certain age complain that no one has manners anymore. Store clerks are rude and kids are surly and water isn’t as wet as it used to be.

If they’re right, I don’t know how anyone found time in the day to eat, never mind build and then lose an empire, what with all the pleases and thank you’s they had to say.

A brief interruption: This is your pilot speaking. Please fasten your seat belt. The post is about to make what looks at first like a diversion but it really is related.

Building an empire, or imposing it on other countries, or whatever you want to call the process, isn’t a polite business. It involves money and guns and bloodshed. If you’re on the building end of this, you don’t say, “Only if you’re having one anyway.” You don’t say “please.” At least not to anyone you don’t consider your equal.

So give me a minute to speculate about the origin of contemporary British manners. First let’s go back in time. The empire’s being built. Within Britain, the class structure is rigid. Think great house with servants. Think of farm workers being expected to take their hats off to the lord—no, sorry, that was only the men. I don’t know what the equivalent was for women. You get the picture, though.

Who’s not the equal of who (okay, okay: to whom, if it makes you happier) is a national obsession, and this is carried over to the empire. The new rulers look down on the ruled for eating odd food and for having odd customs and skin colors and languages.

The definition of odd is “different from ours.”

But they also look down on each other, keeping a finely tuned awareness of who’s above who and who’s below. That tells them who they have to say “please” and “thank you” to and who has to say it to them. They may have the same skin color, but they had different ancestors. Most of them are convinced that matters. Because in Britain the class system isn’t just about money. I’ve heard people claim it’s not about money at all, although I’m sure money comes into it. But what they mean when they talk about the class system is each family’s place in a rigid structure and how long it’s clung on there.

So the way-back-when system meant that you were born into a station in life and were meant to damn well stay there. It gave rise to phrases like it’s not my place to… and getting a bit above ourselves, aren’t we? I’ve heard both. The second one was addressed to a cat, but I’ve never heard anyone say it to a cat in the U.S.

The cat didn’t think he was getting above himself at all.

And now let’s leave the cat behind, because I’m going to go out onto thin ice. My research on this is thin, so if anyone wants to correct me I’d be grateful.

After World War II, the class system broke down a bit. (I say “a bit” because it’s still around, but with nothing like the rigidity it once had.)

Some of the changes seem to have started earlier. Food rationing had been in place throughout the war and continued on for a good while afterward, and although it caused hardship for many it also meant that the poorest people were eating better than they had been. It was a form of equality, even if it was an equality of scarcity.

Then in 1945, a Labour government was elected and it either consolidated changes that were already in process or caused them–or more likely a little of each. The National Health Service was created, making health care free to all, and council houses (the equivalent of what Americans call public housing) were built on a massive scale.

And so on. I don’t want to get lost in the detail. For our purposes, what matters is that people weren’t expected to stay in their place anymore. They had a right to health care, decent housing, better pay, everyday respect. Egalitarianism was an acknowledged goal.

A few years back I heard someone on the BBC talking about a railway porter at the end of the war being addressed by a passenger who was high the social ladder. I can’t remember the details, but the passenger wanted to be addressed as sir, or something along those line. And the porter said, “Those days are over.”

It’s not a systematic study, but it’s one of those resonant details, although it’d resonate a hell of a lot more if I remembered the detail. Sorry. I could make it up, but I’d like to stick to the truth if you’re okay with that. What matters here is that the winds had shifted. No one was going to take their hat off anymore.

I haven’t fallen through the ice yet, but it gets thinner from here on out, because I have no evidence for this at all. That’s a sober-sounding way of saying I’m guessing. Somebody make sure the cat hasn’t followed us, okay?

My guess is that in that egalitarian windstorm, instead of sir and madam being blown away completely, they started to apply more or less across the board. If you’re a customer someplace, you’re in danger of getting sirred or madam’d. We’re all sirrable or madamable. It drives me mildly nuts, but it’s not a battle I’m going to fight.

That may be what all the pleases and thank you’s are about as well. We’re all the people we have to polite to these days. Anyone who comes in thinking they can just give orders will get a raised eyebrow and possibly even (may the angels, the fairies, and all the many sunspots protect them) a tut.

Looking at it that way, even this reckless American has an incentive to say “please.”

Again, I’m not at all sure I’m right about this. I’m testing out a theory and I’d love to know how much it matches with your experience.

If you’ll excuse me now, I’m going back to see how the cat is.

117 thoughts on “British manners

  1. I’m too deeply buried in the culture to help you out with the why. All I can say is that one of the main lessons apart from honesty that I taught my children (now teen/adult) was ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Food/treats would be withheld until the ‘please’ was remembered and eyebrows would be raised expectantly until the ‘thank you’ came out. It was part of the unwritten code of British parenting, enforced by disapproving elders. The shame of having children who didn’t say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ was almost as bad as the toddler-tantrum-in-public shame.

    Liked by 7 people

  2. WWI gave the class system a hefty broadside which left it taking on water and the desperate bailing was only delaying the inevitable.

    It now lies as a decaying hulk in the middle of society, where the nouveau rich, who think it’s money that matters, stand on the rusting deck lording it over those around them.

    “Tea?” “That would be lovely, thank you.”

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    • The Guardian had an interesting long article a few months back on the ways the aristocracy has maintained its economic privileges. I’ve been meaning to write something about it, because it’s fascinating, but I haven’t been able to think of a single thing that’s funny about it.

      Who’s making the tea, you or me?

      Tell you what, if you’ll brew it, I’ll bring brownies.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love this. If I may be permitted to ramble incoherently and with no evident logical transitions:

    1) Love the porter story.

    2) One of the classic contrasts in researching how language use reflects social structure in the US versus the UK is that in the UK you have this clear (at least in contrast to the situation in the US) class system, such that everyone knows who/what they are, and you know who/what they are, too. This makes it easy to draw graphs where you have some linguistic feature on the y (vertical) axis, some social context on the x (horizontal) axis, and different lines for subjects of different social classes. In contrast, the US is in theory a classless society, so it’s often not clear what the “different lines” should be.

    3) Personally, the “can I” grates on me–in my dialect, it’s “may I,” which I’m sure the entire world would agree (a little linguist sarcasm here) is more sweet-sounding and polite (again, more linguist sarcasm) than “can I.’

    Thanks again for this post–I love the way that you spin out and then weave together so many different historical perspectives.

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    • Oh, lord, the may I/can I battle. When I was a kid, a few sad souls were still trying to impress us with how important the difference between the two was. They lost the battle. My mother was of the generation that had been taught the difference between “I can” and “I shall.” It’s a complicated rule, if I remember it right (which I wouldn’t guarantee–I expect you know it better than I do), that changes depending on whether it’s in the first person or not. The example they were given was of a person in deep water waving his arms and shouting, “I shall drown and no one will save me” (or possibly, “I will drown and no one shall save me”), and everyone let him drown because he was expressing determination.

      Her generation let the rule drown, just as mine (at least where I grew up) let the can/may distinction drown. I can’t say the language is any poorer for it, but I’m a barbarian at heart. On the other hand, moving to Britain, the distinction between “can” and “which,” which I carefully learned as an editor, is null and void, and I miss the hell out of it. How can an entire nation be so wrong on something so important?

      If you can answer Jane Bernal’s question (below) about “sir” and “ma’am” any better than I did, I’d be grateful, because I didn’t do a very good job of it.

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  4. Manners, let’s face it are weird and do not cross national borders. Please Ellen, could you explain to this Brit why, in the US, people I do not know tell me to have a nice day, when they clearly don’t mean it? I have always wondered but been too polite to ask. And why do they call people Sir and Ma’am? Especially Ma’am which I’ve never heard used in ordinary speech in the UK? My first visit to the US was to a conference. A man spoke, a woman from the audience raised a critical point. One of the man’s supporters asked, in a quite hostile way, “Do you have a problem, ma’am?” Thank you so much, Jane.

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    • Well, first off we do it to mess with the British. Kind of like the way the British take perfectly good French words like Beaulieu and mangle them until they turn into someone no sane human being would recognize.

      Actually, the sir/ma’am thing is regional. Southerners do it, both black and white. I’m not sure how strongly the black community’s carried it north, but I think the answer’s “somewhat.” People use it with someone older or as a sign of respect. It gets very political. In the bad old days, white Southern kids were taught not to use “sir” and “ma’am” with older black people.

      And having said it’s Southern, I have heard it a bit in the North–in the Midwest–among whites, but again, not that much. A Quaker I used to work with lived in the South for a while and really had to fight for her right as a Quaker not to use either.

      And given that people in our culture–especially woman–don’t want to acknowledge that they’re getting older, the first time a woman get’s ma’am’d can be a bit weird. I remember the first time I got ma’am’d, not because I care how old I look but because I didn’t grow up around the words.

      I’ve heard “ma’am” used in a hostile way in Britain too–a kind of icy fuck-you.

      I’m not sure I’ve explained a single thing here. Sorry. Best I can do.

      Liked by 1 person

    • More data on regional variations: In both Virginia and Maryland the general rule used to be that younger (i.e. than yourself) women were “Miss” and older ones were “Ma’am.” (“Madam” came to be associated with something else, much as “Mistress” did. Cheris Kramarae wrote a whole book about that sort of thing. That’s why Americans say “Ma’am” instead of “Madam.”)

      Supposedly some baby-boomers didn’t want to accept the respect due to their seniority, somewhere, and would rather be addressed by cutesipating, phony-familiar, sexually-harassing terms of bogus endearment than called “Ma’am.” I don’t believe that, myself.

      In my corner of Virginia there also exists a church that used to have the rule that “titles,” including “Miss” and “Ma’am,” were a vestige of feudalism that should not exist among Christians. The rule was to “address” people by looking at them, in an ongoing conversation, and “call” them, to open a conversation, by their names or with a general phrase like “Excuse me for interrupting.”

      I know I for one never wanted to turn into the primary school teacher who hit me with a ruler because my family used the “address-by-a-moment-of-eye-contact” rule. (“Yes.” “Yes, WHAT?!” Whack!) I really think people sound more *sane* when they just say “yes” or “no” or “thank you”–and “whatever is more than these” may indeed “come of evil” (Matthew 5:37).

      But when the sort of ill-mannered trash some local chain stores employ snivel “Have a nice day, hunny,” instead of “Thank you, Ma’am,” I really would like to whack them with a ruler.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Now that I’m 103, the occasional condescending man (always–never a woman), thinking he’s being gracious to an old bat, will call me a young lady. Forget the ruler, I just want to punch him. I should try it some day. I’m sure it’d be good for me.

        For decades, my mother shopped at a very small local supermarket, where the manager called her–I think it was “darling.” And she’d always say, “Benny, I’m not your darling.” He never stopped, but neither did she.

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        • In Cornwall, which is in many ways yet another country, with a distinct dialect and set of manners, people of either sex will address strangers of either sex as “My lover” .  As in, “There you are, my lover, three steak pasties and a Tikka masala.” Alternative terms of improbable endearment are “my darling” and, to men only, “my ‘andsome (pronounce ansumm)”. Handsome/ansdsome/ansumm is a more general term of praise. The steak pasties too might be described as “some ansumm” . 

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  5. An insubordinate shop assistant called me ‘mate’ the other day. I’d barely recovered from that when he asked if I was ‘Awlright’. We’d never met before; but, just to be polite, I said he was fine and hoped he was too. And then he just stood there. On another tack, I believe the Empire was primarily built by entrepreneurs aspiring to be a) rich and b) upper class. It was raw capitalism. Please excuse me – the Memsahib says it’s time for tiffin.

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  6. Nice theory. I think you may well be right!
    As British as I am, I tend not to say please every time when I ask someone for something. My partner often takes me to task for such impoliteness. But I always say thank you when the something is provided.
    And sad to say, I think there are still plenty of people in Britain who think they’re a cut above everyone else. Why else would we tolerate a system that gives public schools (i.e. private schools) charitable status and hence tax breaks, and then let said schools provide most of our ruling elite?

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  7. Here in US if you say thank you, you’ll most likely have to endure a surly “no problem.” The other day someone said “my pleasure,” instead and I was like, where are you from?

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  8. I don’t have abundant experience with British people but I’m always disappointed after a while when I realise that he (or she, but there were more he’s, or is it hims?) is not polite at all, and that all those thank yous, pleases and sorries were just a manner of speaking, signifying absolutely nothing. Especially if this happens in writing as I tend to communicate. Because they do, don’t they, they even write this stuff.

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    • They do have to write it as well–you’re right. And you make a good point: All that polite verbiage doesn’t necessary mean a polite–or more to the point, nice–person underneath it. I don’t know, maybe that’s the purpose of manners: to hide us from the world.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I just looked up “phatic.” For anyone who doesn’t want to bother, it’s ” language used for general purposes of social interaction, rather than to convey information or ask questions. Utterances such as hello, ‘how are you?’ and ‘nice morning, isn’t it?’ are phatic..”

        When my partner first started working as a therapist, she had to train herself to stop asking “how are you?” unless she really wanted to know, because if she asked a client, they’d tell her. I once went to a doctor who walked in the room and asked how I was. Instinctively, I said, “Fine.”

        She had the good grace not to ask what I was doing in her office in that case.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Please Ellen, May I make a point? Thank you ;)

    Yep British :) I also could be wrong, but I believe the class system began to break down in the Napoleonic wars with the army. Then continued to break down during World War 1, completely broken by WW2. While money played a part, class was a lot more with the dos and don’ts of life and who you hung out with in social society. I am not sure who made the rules, but the royal family was the ultimate in social society, you were friends with them, you were high up, followed by relatives and close friends of the royal family and then moving down from there. Now adays it is more to do with money.

    Thank you for your time

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  10. Quote from Talleyrand…man was given the gift of speech in order to disguise his thoughts.
    I use the polite formulae of please, thank you and might I? but recognise that they are just oils for the wheels of daily life, as illustrated in this quote from Hume…
    “Among well-bred people a mutual deference is affected, contempt for others is disguised; authority concealed; attention given to each in his turn; and an easy stream of conversation maintained without vehemence, without interruption, without eagerness”

    While waiting for my half pound of ham to be cut I may well be thinking ‘ get on with it you dozy so and so’, but the expression of such feelings will not have my ham cut any sooner.

    Among friends, while I still use the formulae they are interspersed with less polite language…. as in pass the marmite , you dozy wattock…. as on a footing of equality I feel no need to hold back for fear of making someone feel inferior.

    In my youth I knew people who regarded the Royal family as German parvenus…..

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  11. Absolutely loved this. Especially about the uppity cat. Its funny living and working in Wales, I have often had to explain to the Welsh kids I teach that this “class” thing that’s a big deal in England. It’s not so evident here but they are still happy to look down on “chavs” (working class).

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    • What an interesting, contradictory thing that is. In the U.S., almost everybody thinks they’re middle class, but when you listen carefully you’ll start to hear who they look down on, who they resent (or admire) for being higher up in the hierarchy.

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    • I was once told that CHAVs stood for Council Housed And Violent and the implication was that they are the non working class. Not to be confused with the salt of the earth working classes, who can be relied on to fix things and tug forelocks appropriately. It’s important to remember that the working classes are divided into those that work, those that don’t but want to, and those that wouldn’t, even if you paid them a living wage!

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        • In all seriousness, I’ve always been uncomfortable with the phrase. It may be useful in economic or sociological terms–I’m not sure–but with all the demonization of people who don’t work for a wide and very complex range of reasons, I can’t help feeling that I’m falling into a tabloid-driven trap. Unfortunately, I don’t have a better one to offer, only an urgent need to point out that as a culture we’re simplifying a complicated situation.

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  12. I lived in Germany for a while and was totally confused when I was instructed not to include ‘bitte’ in a sentence asking someone to do something. It’s as natural as breathing to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, I’m afraid. I don’t think it’s meaningless, as one of your correspondents suggests. At the very least it’s an acknowledgement that someone is going to do or has done something for you that they needn’t do or have done. Please forgive me for the previous sentence, it got a bit complicated.

    I weaned myself off ‘only if you’re making one’ when I realised that my friends were probably as prepared to make a cup of tea just for me as I was to do the same for them. I think I was in my late forties by that point.

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    • I have a friend who still needs to be asked three times if she wants caffeine or herbal tea. Her first two answers are along the lines of “Whatever you’re having.”

      Arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

      Like

  13. I grew up and lived in the deep South. Manners are so important. Please and Thank you. Yes M’am and No M’am. We even had Cotillion. Junior and Senior, to learn more manners and how to eat, dance and speak in polite society. My son started dating a woman with a child and I got a horrified phone call from my son telling me he couldn’t date her anymore because her child had horrid manners. lol

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    • Ah, now here we get into another national difference. In the U.S., I was used to hearing people ask, “You know what I mean?” I said it myself a lot, and I always thought it was okay to say, “Well, actually, I’m not sure I do. Explain it, would you?” In Britain, though, people ask about matters of fact, not whether they’re understood. So someone will said, “Well, it rained heavily on April 3, 1948, didn’t it?” I’m clearly not supposed to say, “Gee, I haven’t a clue,” but I’m not sure what I am supposed to say.

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  14. I was raised to say “yes-please” and “no-thank-you” and they are now as ingrained to me as breathing. I think I might combust if I tried to resist saying those phrases in a casual interaction. My Granny tried to instill in me the need to say “may I” instead of “can I” but that one has not stuck, maybe because I rebelled a bit, and I use them pretty interchangeably. Since I rarely turn down a cup of tea, I am not inclined to say “Only if you are having one”.

    Your exchange in the comments about phatic communication (thanks for the terminology lesson) illuminates something I struggle with here in Pennsylvania. When I am out walking, when people ask me, “How are you?”, I instinctively respond with, “I am fine today. How are you?” For the first year of living in America, I definitely did not grasp that the person asking was not actually anticipating an answer, was not wanting one. It was only when I mentioned to a friend that I found it odd that some people kept walking in the opposite direction even though they had just asked me a question that she pointed out what should have been obvious: it was simply a pleasant, passing greeting and not a prelude to a brief conversation. The penny dropped. Three years further on, however, and I still cannot stop myself from actually responding to such a passing comment. I am institutionalised.

    We are indeed divided by a common language. In fact, just this morning one of my colleagues was enjoying my use of the phrase “told off”. I had not even reckoned on that being a British term.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I usually responded to “How are you” with something along the lines of “Fine, thanks,” even if my arms were visibly falling off. Maybe the no-response-expected question started after I left. But I vividly remember an acquaintance answering that she was terrible. So I stopped on the stairs and asked what was wrong.

      “I don’t want to talk about it,” she said, as if (at least as I heard it) I was being really intrusive. Which left me with my mouth hanging open. If you don’t want to fuckin’ talk about it, don’t fuckin’ bring it up.

      Sorry. You didn’t really ask about that.

      Maybe you can tell me what I’m supposed to say when someone greets with with “Arright?” Or is that just a Cornish thing? I tend to say, “Fine thanks,” even if my arms, etc. But I have a hunch the answer’s supposed to be “Arright.”

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I grew up in Kuwait, a country previously colonized and run by the Brits, and I can totally see the correlation between classism and subservient manners. Other than proper manners that all should have because why not live a life refraining of being an asshole, that observation on how American manners are business related is super interesting. Capitalism crawling its way into everyday behavior? I think ideologies and social interaction behaviors would be a great post. Thank you for your post, friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It would be a great post, but I suspect it’s a bit outside of my reach. Is it one you could manage?

      (Not exactly related to that last comment), I find myself on all side of the issues involved when people discuss manners. I love it when people refrain from being assholes and even manage to sound a bit cheery with each other. It lifts my spirits, and I don’t take that for granted. But I also feel–I’m not sure what the right word for this is, but let’s say a bit imprisoned when manners get too polite. To me, it feels false. The casualness of American manners may well be capitalism creeping into our behavior (and it does, it does, in so many ways), but it also feels relaxed and natural to me. Not necessarily because it’s any more natural than anything else, but probably because it’s what I grew up with.

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      • Agreed. I’ve been living in the US for 5 years now and I adore the transparency. I also grew up in a British school for 9 years before transferring and graduating from an American IB (international-baccalaureate) school, so the American psyche is in my mind as well. Manners transparent yet welcoming, i suppose, reign supreme in my mind. Quite refreshing it is when some stranger manages to make me smile by being polite and profane together, which to me is a trademark of American linguistics and mannerisms.

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  16. Do you know the blog Separated by a Common Language – the writer, who’s both an American living in the UK and a professional linguist, has been studying the differences in the use of Please and Thank you between British and US English – https://separatedbyacommonlanguage.blogspot.co.uk/2017/07/thank-you-veryso-much.html

    Growing up in the UK in the 1970s, I was taught to say Yes, please and No, thank you – never the other way around – as you say, it almost becomes a single word, it’s certainly a single thought.

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  17. I contributed to ingraining “may” and “can” when I taught in a junior high. “Can I go to the bathroom?” they’d say, and I’d reply “I don’t know – can you ?” That seemed to make the point effectively.

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  18. When I first started out working for TSB Bank I remember I was told off for saying “you’re welcome” after someone thanked me as apparently I sounded “too American” in response I started telling people to “have a nice day.” It’s hard to believe I didn’t last in that job.

    I’ve now been living in the USA for a year and a half at this point and recently started working at City Hall.

    I can absolutely say that there is nothing Americans about “you’re welcome” up here in the UP. Here the response to “thank you” is as often as not a sour look and the response “yup” which I have to say really grates on me.

    I find “sir” and “ma’am” incredibly useful for when I want to be rudely polite, which honestly is a required skill working with the public.

    I say please and thank you a lot, I maintain the difference between “can” and “may”. To me all the “pleases” and “thank yous” the British use are similar to the bowing, and apologising for things not your fault, in Japan. It costs me nothing, it smooths the way and most importantly keeps everyone at a polite distance and on safely preordained conversational tracks. The American equivalent I have learned is “hey howya doin’“ to which the correct response is “good, and you?” (I may be willfully adding the “and”).

    I wish my step children said thank you more, but I’m aware it is a cultural thing and I don’t feel it is my place to change it. It may be that I what I really wish is that they are generally more grateful for their blessings, but as a secular family we don’t have the habit of giving thanks. I do insist on “please” on the end of any request that expects a response, because I don’t think any one ever got into trouble for being too polite.
    I am aware I’m a hideous, old fart and am clearly going to degenerate into crusty pronunciations on the “youth of today” at any moment. Sorry, I may have got above myself and should probably go and make tea.

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    • Wheee. If you want British, it’s that phrase “getting above yourself.”

      I got all nostalgic over “hey, howya doin’.” I think you’re right about having added “and” to the response. My memory insists it’s just, “Good. You?” But I don’t think, even in these ugly times, anyone’ll challenge your right to stay in the country over an “and.” I will defend (if that’s the right word, and I suspect it’s not) “you’re welcome” as an Americanism. I’m much more inclined to use that than to say “please.” “Thanks,” oddly enough, does seem natural to me. Which all goes to show you something but I have no idea what.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes I did reference “getting above myself” deliberately and mostly tongue in cheek, (I’d love to know where that peculiarly English phrase comes from) but as an immigrant and a step-mum, “not my place” is proving depressingly useful as a phrase. Of course I am using it more literally than I am supposed to and not really in reference to status. Where ever my place is, I still feel out of it. Of course once you are out of place you are only a hop and a skip from being out of sorts too and then it’s all down hill from there!
        I am going to have to ask about the use of “can” and “which” because clearly I don’t feel I’ve stirred up enough trouble adding “and” to “good, you?”.
        I will allow (generous I know!) that “you’re welcome” is entirely more American than British, and put the lack of it up here, down to northern reticence and possibly the Finns!
        On the subject of odd phrasing, I repeatedly hear peoople doing things “on accident” up here, rather than “by accident” is that an Americanism or a Yooperism?

        Liked by 1 person

        • “On accident” is regional. I’ve never heard it before. The can/may thing: If you’re serious about it (and I’m not), “can” means you’re physically able to but “may” means you have permission. All of which makes me want to throw things.

          Which makes me want to throw things for different reasons, mostly because it’s so fuckin’ complicated to explain. If a phrase isn’t necessary to define something, you’d use which (according to American grammar, which many Americans don’t know). So I used “which” inside the parentheses there, not that. (Sorry–I’ve gotten tired of quotation marks and am going to drop them for now.) If I wanted to make a distinction between American and British grammar, I’d use which: “The rule that Americans follow.”

          Did that make any sense to you at all?

          It takes the wisdom of Solomon to be a step-parent. You have to love, but with a certain distance, I suspect.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Thank you I was confusing my self completely trying to think of a situation in which you would swap can and which. Apparently I have always been oblivious to the that/which rule, although worryingly the “which” version sounds better to me (that sound you head is probably my mother spinning in her grave). It also makes sense of one of my favourite Winnie the Pooh quotes when I think it is Owl who dismisses letters as “a thing that rabbit knows” :)

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  19. Another brilliant post! “Of course you can bloody well …” The whole lunch meat thing cracked me up! I think for American self, manners are something I polish up and show off in public. Yes, of course I say please and thank you and ma’am and sir, but not as much in my own private circle.

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      • I can *say* them, but I’m conscious of speaking in an alien language register.

        Northerners don’t hear differences in Southern U.S. accents. Southerners hear not only which part of which State a speaker comes from, but also the person’s age, gender, in some cases race, and in my part of Virginia most definitely socioeconomic background, and *also* the occasion on which the person is speaking. Itsy-bitsy nuances indicate all of these things.

        Which is why I *don’t* talk like people my age who spent *all* of their formative years here. I didn’t spend enough time among the right sort of people to speak the appropriate form of the local dialect.

        Well, the younger generation don’t mind sounding as if they’d spent time in the North, even if they’ve not. I have spent time in the North; nor do I really mind sounding younger than I am.

        Liked by 1 person

  20. My parents expected me to say please and thank you, and I’m happy to see my grandsons being raised to exhibit good manners by American standards. I fear, however, that our standards resemble the manners of a cat to a person from the UK. Haha! What I’ve been guilty of is the subtle sarcastic bent to a ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ when dealing with a difficult situation or person and I’m not sure, but I think that might negate my efforts to be polite! Found you at Suzie’s link party.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. This was fun, as was reading all the comments. We ended up embarrassing a waiter in Canada with all our ‘British-thank-yous’, (4 of us thanking him for every drink, menu, condiment, plate, plate clearing etc) chuckling he told us how ‘cute’ we were, but to stop it, he didn’t need to be showered in them, but for us, it felt rude not to thank him, perhaps he would have just been happy with a generous tip. Tipping, that minefield for many British!

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Very interesting look at manners and the layers of different classes. On this one, I equate manners with kindness in my preschool class. As simple as that. And we often say, “Yes, please.” This was a great read. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

      • True. That was the darnedest thing…I don’t want to hijack this thread just because it fascinates me (I was an English major), but I have known cats who responded to “please” and “thank you.” I’ve formed the habit of using those words with cats on the chance that they’re paying attention!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Oh, go ahead and hijack it. That’s always fun.

          In all honesty, and in spite of what I said above (because I’ll say pretty much anything here, just for the hell of it), I’ve never had a cat who responded to “please” and “thank you.” That may have a lot to do with me not saying either one to my cats very often. I do have conversations with them, and sometimes supply their side of it as well, but the ones I think they like best are about how beautiful they are.

          Not that they don’t already know.

          Like

  23. Excellent stuff.

    Enlightening, funny, and extremely polite-yerself – what with the self-effacing invitations to be corrected and the subtext of apology for not being in possession of every minor detail.

    Are you sure you’re American?

    You sound British…

    Liked by 1 person

  24. We are very polite – though if I were to be called ‘madam’ I would wonder what I had done wrong, girls are generally called a madam if they’re spoilt or little madam if they are a fiesty (naughty), demanding little girl!

    Liked by 1 person

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