Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Mr Polite

I’m running out of ways to say “I’m sorry!”

I’m also running out of ways to say “Thank you!”

You see, as a British person, I am cursed with over-politeness, an ailment that has conditioned me to say “Thank you!” even when no thanks are normally necessary and “I’m sorry!” when I do not need to apologise.

My condition is so far gone that I end up looking for the translations of “Thank you” and “I’m sorry” into the native language of any country I visit.

I can say “I’m sorry” and “Thank you” in 352 different languages.

Just last week, I was in Nice and I found myself saying “Je suis désolé” to an absolutely clumsy bonehead who walked out of a shop without looking and barged straight into me, stamping on my foot in the process.
I wanted to say:

“You clumsy blind dickhead! Why don’t you watch where you’re bloody well going?”

But my brain forced me to say:

“Excusez-moi, monsieur. Je suis désolé!”

as if the entire episode had been my fault. I was the injured party having had my big toe crushed by a whopping great hoof clad I a brightly coloured French designer shoe, while having an elbow rammed into my midriff.

The man simply ignored me.

My worst fear is following a person down a really long corridor with approximately one hundred closed doors. If he is just a couple of yards in front of me, he will end up holding each door open for me and I will have to say “Thank you” in a variety of ways, so as not to appear to have a limited vocabulary as well as being impolite. And of course, living in Britain there is a very high chance that the person concerned will be British too, which means that he has to think of numerous ways to say “That’s OK!”.

Can you picture that scene, dear reader?

1st door

“Thank you!”  “You’re welcome!”

2nd door

“Thanks!”    “That’s okay!”

3rd door

“Cheers!”   “No problem!”

4th door

“Ta mate!”   “No worries!”

. . .
. . .

85th door

(OH MY GOD - NOT ANOTHER DOOR!!) “You’re so kind!”
(FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!!)  “Any time!”

By the time we both reach door 100 we will inwardly want to kill each other while at the same time smiling politely and rifling through our mental thesauruses desperate to find yet another way to continue this pathetic charade.

It seems to me that when you are born in Britain, you suddenly lose all common sense when it comes to politeness.

Why is that?

Surely, politeness needs to be meant, and British people are so good at portraying a front of courtesy that I don’t trust any of them – myself included.

I know for a fact that inwardly each person is churning when they apologise for something – especially out of politeness when it was not even their fault.

BRIT1: I’m sorry!

BRIT 2: No, I must insist that it is my fault.

BRIT1: You are so kind but I have to apologise for it.

BRIT2: You are so gracious – and that’s wonderful but it truly is my                  fault.

What is truly meant is:

BRIT1: You clumsy great oaf! What do you think you are doing?

BRIT2: If I weren’t in a public place I would punch you in the face for                that you dickhead!

We are even polite when it comes to paying for meals – as illustrated in this clip:

While we are sometimes genuinely sincere, there are occasions when we may not actually mean what we say. Here are a few examples. You can generally judge by listening to what we say and looking at our faces for tell-tale signs that we may be disguising our true feelings behind a façade of courtesy:

What we say:
Yes, the wine is fine!
What we probably mean: 
This wine is horse piss!

What we say:                     
With all due respect …
What we probably mean: 
You’re a bloody idiot …

What we say:                     
Keep in touch!
What we probably mean:  
Don’t keep in touch!

What we say:                    
Call any time
What we probably mean: 
For God’s sake ring me before you call!

What we say:                    
It’s all my fault!
What we probably mean:  
It’s your fault you absolute arse!

What we say:                     
Oh are you sure you’ll get this round of beers? I don’t mind getting it.
What we probably mean:   

What we say:                     
That sounds like a good idea.
What we probably mean:  
Are you insane? It’s a bloody stupid idea.

What we say:                       
I’m so sorry!
What we probably mean:  
I'm not sorry at all!! You’re a clumsy great oaf!

Actually, I’ve just realised that if you are not British, you may read this post and no longer trust me or any other Englishman ever again when he is genuinely being sincere and polite. What you need to do, as suggested above, is to judge the situation from body language.

For example, when Monsieur Oaf did his best to merge his elbow with my chest while at the same time trying to flatten my foot, my voice (through gritted teeth) said “I’m sorry, that was totally my fault” while my entire body screamed said “I ought to punch your lights out for trying to kill me and not even acknowledging my presence you totally ignorant arse.”

If he had apologised I would, of course, have bought him a glass of wine and smiled sincerely.

I will conclude by saying:

Thank you so much, dear reader, for taking the time to read this post.

I am genuinely sorry if I caused any offence.

And you can tell from my body language that I am telling the truth.


River said...

All that bowing and scraping is almost Japanese.
I'm so glad I'm not British; I get to say what I really mean, which is "no thanks, I don't want to", instead of "that sounds like a marvellous idea, what time?"

Jackie K said...

I totally have this same problem, even though I'm not British. Do you follow the Twitter account Very British Problems? It is full of stuff like this and so funny cos it's true.
In your example of the doors, I have been in that situation and I find I am forced to walk slower or even stop and pretend to examine something intently for a moment, in order to fall out of step with the other person and avoid any more awkwardness.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi River,

I wouldn't say that it is bowing or scraping - in fact, the Japanese are even more polite than us Brits.

I have to say that there are Brits who are impolite too.

And as for you Ozzies - yes you are more direct than us (which is one of the reasons I like you) but don't forget, of all the nations on Earth, Ozzies are the most similar to us - so you are prone to this madness too (as I discovered when I visited your lovely country). You just say "Sorry" and "Thanks" with plainer body language than us.




Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Jackie,

I don't follow that account - but I will.

The truth is - I would probably do the same as you with the doors; there's only so much I can take.