He’s certainly understood the English

Australians and Americans might be a bit more risk-tolerant and perhaps more brash. I had to learn to speak “English” when I first arrived here! In a boardroom I no longer say “You’re wrong mate.” I now say: “That’s an interesting point. Now let’s, for a moment, consider the opposite.”

7 comments on “He’s certainly understood the English

  1. Yes, you don’t say “You’re wrong, mate” because he’s not your mate: you’re at work, and he’s paid to be in your company. If only Australians could understand this, especially when it comes to customer services, they might edge a little closer to joining the developed world. English really does lack a polite form of “you”.

  2. He’s wrong about Americans: they may once have been brash but now they just seem earnest and mealy-mouthed.

    I like Australian get-up-and-go, though admit they’d often be better off for a bit of sit-down-and-read.

  3. Americans don’t do jokes during business hours. Difficult to keep a straight face when they fuss about the seriousness of life and business.

  4. I disagree slightly with Tim Newman. We don’t ‘lack a polite form of “you”‘ because it *is* the polite form. We lack the informal version lost when “thou” and “thee” fell into disuse. My grandfather would ask me “How are thee, lad?”

    Australians or Londoners addressing you as “mate”, Americans as “dude” or “man”, Nottingham people as “me duck” or Bristolians as “my lover” are filling a gap in the English language.

    Working abroad with people of many nationalities for twenty years, I found that our lack of this simple signal causes confusion. English-speakers are often seen as a bit slippery, partly because our language disguises hierarchy.

    We have no recognised rules as to when one can “tutoyer” in English and a “thou” equivalent barely noticed in one place might seem odd in another. It took me a while to realise that the Bristolian lady I worked with behind a bar as a young man was expressing no more than comradely affection!

    As people from all over the world interact with each other in London even the English-speakers are giving each other confusing signals. Spare a thought for the speakers of English as a second language as they struggle with our multiple, inconsistent approaches to replacing thou and thee. If they speak to their English colleague in the style of their Australian boss they can easily cause unwitting offence.

    I was once told a story of a young Englishman having an affair with a married French lady in Paris back in the seventies. The choice to “tutoyer” was clearly hers as she was both a woman and his senior, but she never made it. His curiosity overcame his politeness and he asked her why. She said, puffing on a post-coital cigarette, that it would be “disrespectful to her husband”. It might be an apocryphal story, but it’s sophisticated use of language!

  5. I disagree slightly with Tim Newman. We don’t ‘lack a polite form of “you”‘ because it *is* the polite form. We lack the informal version lost when “thou” and “thee” fell into disuse. My grandfather would ask me “How are thee, lad?”

    Good point.

  6. I can think of an Australian company in which it is common to use the expression “fuck off”, rather than “You’re wrong, mate”, even in board meetings. Offence is not meant, nor (usually) taken. Foreigners (particularly Americans) find this hard to cope with at first.

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