My Parents always taught me to mind my p’s and q’s when I was a child. I had to make sure I always said ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ copious amounts of times to aging relatives and the like who at Christmas and birthdays, proffered gawdy hand knitted items of clothing and selection boxes of various well know chocolate bars such as Mars, Twix and Marathon. Such was the type of Christmas gift in my day! What a luxury it was to have 6 different types of chocolate bar to choose from and gorge on. Imagine a child of today getting a Crunchie and a Bounty for Christmas….and being happy about it!
As a product of my Britishness I fall over myself to be pleasant and polite and always mind my p’s and q’s: excuse me, pardon me, forgive me, please may I have, please can you help me, I would be ever so grateful if, thank you so very much, I am eternally thankful, appreciative, indebted, beholden, and so on….One side of our language in Britain is entirely dedicated to being thankful, courteous, considerate, polite and of course sorry. We are absolutely sorry to have disturbed anyone or anything for anything or anyone. Upon disturbing someone…maybe as an example, to buy a pot of tea in a teashop we might say ‘So sorry to disturb you’ and then morph into gratitude itself where no amount of thank you very much indeed for helping to quench our thirst, is considered too few.
We are sorry when we bump into someone in a crowded place, sorry if we fail to hold a door open for someone, sorry if we get served before someone else at the bar, sorry when we stand on someones foot and EVEN sorry when somebody stands on OUR OWN foot. Ridiculous, but it is the first thing that pops out of a Brits mouth…Opps SORRY! I didn’t see you there…No I am SORRY my foot was in the way!
Swedes though on the other hand, or to be fair I should probably say Scandinavians, do not have this burning need to be so polite all the time. That is not to say that they are rude, it’s just that the language is more direct and without so many frills as English. Swedish does not even have a direct word for ‘please’, in the form we use it when we ask for something. They of course just cut straight to the thanks (Ett kopp te, Tack).
My family visited me this weekend and following a number of restaurant dinners and shopping expeditions they came to the shocking conclusion that waitresses and shop assistants were being quite rude to them! Having lived in Sweden for quite a few years now I didn’t feel that at all, people were ‘normal’ as far as I was concerned. But thinking back…I did remember feeling exactly the same thing when I first moved to Sweden. I explained to my family that it was not so much Swedes were rude more that they weren’t overly polite like we in England. We ordered an apple juice and the waitress said ‘NO, we don’t have apple juice’. To my brothers delicate English ears that appeared rude because of course she forgot the obligatory magic words…No I am SORRY but we don’t have apple juice, but PLEASE can I offer you Orange juice instead? yes ok. THANKYOU’
The language in Sweden is more direct, more efficient you might say, certainly without apology and at times lacking helpful suggestions or alternatives, but does that qualify someone as rude?
I must have been here far too long because I think not. It’s just a matter of adaption for the Brit to get over the inborn desire to be sorry, polite and then thankful in everything we do. Maybe realising that the rest of the world is not so bloody sorry about anything that is not personally their fault. But maybe the Scandinavians with their excellent English abilities and kind natures can also help international relations and remember to mind their p’s and q’s when faced with manner obsessed Brits…In the words of Caroline af Ugglas… snälla, snälla!