Have you ever heard that common stereotype that British people are overly polite? Well, this can be a rather complex thing for people of other dialects and languages to understand. For example, it is common for the British to over apologise or show their gratitude in different ways.
1. Mind your P’s and Q’s.
As a phrase that goes back to the mid-19th Century, it is commonly used in the English language (both within the British and American dialect) as a way of saying “mind your manners” or “be on your best behaviour”.
First, you want to make sure you say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ for most interactions where appropriate. If you aren’t sure of where these apply, you should say ‘please’ when you need something to be completed for you with the help of another person and you say ‘thank you’ when you feel grateful for something someone has done for you.
2. Say sorry! (even when it isn’t your fault)
When you have done something that may have a negative impact on someone, it’s common courtesy to apologise, even if what has happened is out of your control.
Also, if you walk into someone while walking, it’s also common to apologise as a way of acknowledging what has happened. Often, the other person will say they’re sorry as well.
However, apologising is largely up to your judgement. Be aware of your behaviour and use your judgement to know when saying “I’m sorry” is necessary.
3. Should/ Would/ Could
Sometimes, you can be polite by phrasing your sentence a certain way. For example, if you place it in a question-like sentence, it often comes across as if it’s for the other person to decide.
- Should – Use “should we go?” instead of “we’re going”.
- Would – Use “would you grab that fork for me?” instead of “grab that fork”.
- Could – Use “Could you pass me the salt, please?” instead of “pass me the salt”.
4. Use language that sounds vague.
Similar to the last point, if you use vague language it allows you to cancel or change plans, for example, without sounding rude or inconsiderate. For instance,
- “Would you like to meet around lunch?”
- “Maybe we should reschedule?”
So, here it is.
Don’t forget to:
- Use ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.
- Say sorry!
- Ask it in a question, rather than a demand.
- Use vague language.
Here are some polite phrases you can use next time you’re practising English or speaking to a local:
- “May I have…?”
- “Can I help you?”
- “Could you help me with this?”
And don’t forget about your responses to others either:
- No problem.
- You’re welcome.
- Glad to help.
Contact us here to book lessons and to practise your polite English with one of our excellent native tutors!
Nicole and Cassie