Monday, April 20, 2009

Little things...

So I was thinking one of the weirdest parts about being in another country is all the little things that are different...

I always used to phrase requests as "Can I please..." (or, in the case of an obsessive East Maddington Primary School librarian "May I please..." - if you asked if you could go to the toilet, he would stop, look at you and say "Well, it's between you and God whether you can or not..." Then he'd wait til you either a) got the message and used the word may or b) peed your pants. Awesome guy.)

Anyway, my original point was: everyone says "Please can I have..." instead of "Can I please have..." Because it's a slightly unfamiliar phrase, I noticed it more, and that made it seem like such a rote-learned rule rather than true courtesy.

But then I realised that courtesy is probably mostly made up of stock phrases and rules, at least in the beginning. I don't know how many times during my childhood I rolled out a thank-you-for-having-me or takk-fyrir-mig without really thinking about it. You really do need to be taught specific rules for manners at first, and it's only later that your courtesy comes from actually thinking of others... Or does it?

Okay, so as a point, it's kind of pointless, but these are the things I think about. Also, wow, I'm rad at debating myself on small issues. I could keep going and going, arguing one side then the other, but I'm sure it'd get tiring after a while. Maybe it's already tiring! Sorry!

More later, maybe it will be less pointless - at first I wanted to say more pointful? More pointed? Pointier? Razor sharp, even.


Kristinn said...

Hiya! Nice one.

1) I think you were kinda saying this already, butI find it's useful to explicitly think about the distinction between manners and courtesy here; manners being a set of social rules important for the superficial cohesiveness of society(like how to hold your knife and fork), and courtesy being more a sort of general consideration for others.

So while 'please' and 'thank you' are important for courtesy, a lot of their use is part of the social norms we call 'manners' - like the near-meaningless 'thanks'es you exchange with a storeperson when you buy something.

I guess this is also how Icelandic can lack a word for 'please', without Icelanders necessarily being discourteous.*

2) Mr Keelan was a jerk, wasn't he?

3) Come to think of it "Please can I have..." makes a little more sense to me, but I probably say "Can I please have..." more often.

*Though they are sometimes/frequently discourteous.

northern musings said...

Kristinn beat me to the point about the lack of a please in Icelandic, so in order to overcome this I used to always ask may I have such and such - má ég fá...and got the stock answer ofcourse you may - but do you want it... þú mát fá það en ert þú viss að þú viljir fá það.... Annnoyyyinggg correct is apparently (as far as I can tell) Will you be so good as to give me... Villt þú vera svo góð að láta mig fá/géfa mér... URGH

olga said...

Whoa, Mr Keelan! I couldn't remember his name, I was hoping you'd know what it was...
Yeah, I guess courtesy and manners are different things. I think courtesy/consideration for others is my favourite quality in people.

Ha! Sigga, that's awesome, I can make a whole loop out of not letting people have things.
-Can I?
I don't know whether you can or not...
-May I, then?
You may, but are you sure you really want it?
Say please!

Also, I like how in Iceland, the word please on English TV is translated as 'gerðu það'. C'mon, man, do it.