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What the British say, and what they actually mean...
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CD



Joined: 15 Sep 2007
Posts: 665
Location: London, UK

PostPosted: Mon Feb 27, 2012 2:20 pm    Post subject: What the British say, and what they actually mean... Reply with quote

A non-British friend of mine came across this little gem and it's actually rather embarassingly true. No wonder no one understands us when "it's not bad" is more of a positive statement than "quite good". You never want to be "quite good", "brave" or "very interesting" in Britain...

http://twicsy.com/i/2mWzV
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Tee



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
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Location: Detroit Metro

PostPosted: Mon Feb 27, 2012 6:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

That was fun to read. I always have loved the "respectful" way that the Brits speak. It can certainly cut to the bone, but in the most respectful manner. I catch on TV sometimes the sessions where they ask questions of the Prime Minister (do I have that correct?) and they can say some nasty stuff and it's over before you realize it's been a cut. In fact, that whole procedure of how they address each other is great to hear.

Thanks for sharing that. My daughter lived in London for about three years. I'm going to be sure to send it to her.
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ChrisReader



Joined: 05 Sep 2009
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 28, 2012 10:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hmmmm maybe it's a New England thing but the British meanings are exactly how I would have taken each of the comments.

I have family members and have had bosses that communicate in exactly that way. I'm not sure if you would call it passive aggressive exactly- but it's a way of getting your point across without being openly rude or pushy. It also tends to separate the people who are sensitive to other peoples nuances from those who are blithely unaware.
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dick



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 01, 2012 10:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Surely tone or stress changes a bit, especially in those utterances which stray a considerable distance from lexical meaning.
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JaneO



Joined: 17 Feb 2008
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 01, 2012 1:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Have I spent too much of my life reading English novels? Because (Horrors!) the British meanings are the ones I understand by those expressions.
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CD



Joined: 15 Sep 2007
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Location: London, UK

PostPosted: Thu Mar 01, 2012 3:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

To be honest, I don't think we use these expressions as a way to be more polite or respectful towards others. It's little to do with how others take it and more about it not being the "done" thing to express sincere and/or strong emotions, with the result that we tend to underplay both the positive and the negative of what we feel. To be honest, we don't normally signal any of this because we just expect people to understand what we mean. Which they often don't even in Britain, let alone when we're overseas.

I have to say that that's one the appeals of reading US romances. Even if they are set in the UK, they read very "American" in the sense that you get these wonderfully anguished declarations of love and overpowering emotion, not to mention lengthy descriptions of complete out-of-this-world sex Wink. In Britain, the hero would just say "You're not half bad, you know - I could do a lot worse. Plus you've got GREAT tits." followed by either comedic or perfunctory sex. The comedic is usually better.


Tee - I think you mean "Prime Ministers' Questions" or PMQs. We have them every week and it's mostly a ridiculous time-waster show-casing adversarial/"punch and judy" politics at its most childish. It's meant to be the occasion when the Commons can call the Prime Minister to account but it just ends up being a match as to who can think up the best insults each week. They speak the way they do because of formal debating rules where you never address anyone directly except the Speaker. It's meant to make debates more civilised and more focused on issues rather than personal attacks, but it REALLY doesn't work.

I suppose the only good thing about it, aside from its undoubted entertainment value, is the fact that you need to be intelligent, quick-witted and have a tough skin to get anywhere in British politics as good performance at PMQs is a necesary asset for high office. However, this normally means that we get arrogant public school tossers who are flashy style over substance and are incapable of recognising that other points of view may also be valid. Obviously not thinking about any example in particular...

BTW, by "public school", I mean private school. Don't ask
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Tee



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 01, 2012 4:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks, for explaining that, I think. Can we say that the English humor may be subtle, but can also cut deep? In any event, I love it. The English people can laugh at themselves and that's a gift. Very Happy
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Maggie AAR



Joined: 23 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 05, 2012 12:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

CD wrote:

I have to say that that's one the appeals of reading US romances. Even if they are set in the UK, they read very "American" in the sense that you get these wonderfully anguished declarations of love and overpowering emotion, not to mention lengthy descriptions of complete out-of-this-world sex Wink. In Britain, the hero would just say "You're not half bad, you know - I could do a lot worse. Plus you've got GREAT tits." followed by either comedic or perfunctory sex. The comedic is usually better.




LOL, this is why I often struggle with romances set in England. Might as well just put the characters in their natural habitat - 20th century America.

maggie b.
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CD



Joined: 15 Sep 2007
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Location: London, UK

PostPosted: Mon Mar 05, 2012 12:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

maggie b. wrote:
CD wrote:

I have to say that that's one the appeals of reading US romances. Even if they are set in the UK, they read very "American" in the sense that you get these wonderfully anguished declarations of love and overpowering emotion, not to mention lengthy descriptions of complete out-of-this-world sex Wink. In Britain, the hero would just say "You're not half bad, you know - I could do a lot worse. Plus you've got GREAT tits." followed by either comedic or perfunctory sex. The comedic is usually better.




LOL, this is why I often struggle with romances set in England. Might as well just put the characters in their natural habitat - 20th century America.

maggie b.



You mean 20th/21st century Americans really do get the out of the world sex described in romance novels?! Gotta get myself out on the next plane!! I bet the men over there don't snore or fart in bed or [gasp] fall asleep during sex...
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Maggie AAR



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PostPosted: Tue Mar 06, 2012 7:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

CD wrote:
maggie b. wrote:
CD wrote:

I have to say that that's one the appeals of reading US romances. Even if they are set in the UK, they read very "American" in the sense that you get these wonderfully anguished declarations of love and overpowering emotion, not to mention lengthy descriptions of complete out-of-this-world sex Wink. In Britain, the hero would just say "You're not half bad, you know - I could do a lot worse. Plus you've got GREAT tits." followed by either comedic or perfunctory sex. The comedic is usually better.




LOL, this is why I often struggle with romances set in England. Might as well just put the characters in their natural habitat - 20th century America.

maggie b.



You mean 20th/21st century Americans really do get the out of the world sex described in romance novels?!.

I think people on both sides of the ocean get that every once in awhile. Probably not as often as in romances. . . . . .

CD wrote:
r [gasp] fall asleep during sex...


I refuse to believe that's physically possible. Evil or Very Mad

maggie b.
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Eliza



Joined: 21 Aug 2011
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 08, 2012 5:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

CD wrote:
To be honest, I don't think we use these expressions as a way to be more polite or respectful towards others. It's little to do with how others take it and more about it not being the "done" thing to express sincere and/or strong emotions, with the result that we tend to underplay both the positive and the negative of what we feel.


My impression of living there is neatly summed up by the term "not the done thing," but I would add my American impression that even with subtle, not-open cuts, the British are still much more polite and behave more civilly overall as a culture. (Should I add "duh, of course" to that last bit?) I'll use the word "queue" as a good example. Smile

Then also as ChrisReader astutely said:
Quote:
It also tends to separate the people who are sensitive to other peoples nuances from those who are blithely unaware.


As you said CD, while it may be more superficially polite, it also keeps one right up on her toes for the appropriate responses, no? And sharper thinking along with more articulate discussion, I thought, because of what was or wasn't done.

P.S. Aside for the comedic sex bit you mentioned, CD, I found the Brits more open and natural(?) about the place of sex in life, especially regarding quickies Smile, than by more prudish Americans.
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dick



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 09, 2012 10:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Have to say, I don't think it's possible to convey the British meanings without a change in intonation or stress. Compare, for example, "oh, really," in American usage. Those two words can express a number of different meanings, but in order to establish the different meanings, stress and intonation change considerably. I think there would have to be a much larger gap between British and American parlance for the same not to hold true in Britain.

As for good manners: I don't think there's that great a gap there either.
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CD



Joined: 15 Sep 2007
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 09, 2012 8:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

dick wrote:
Have to say, I don't think it's possible to convey the British meanings without a change in intonation or stress. Compare, for example, "oh, really," in American usage. Those two words can express a number of different meanings, but in order to establish the different meanings, stress and intonation change considerably. I think there would have to be a much larger gap between British and American parlance for the same not to hold true in Britain.


Well, they do say that we're two countries separated by a common language...

To clarify, we're not actually being sarcastic when we say something is, for example, "quite good" when we mean that we're a little underwhelmed. It's something we do unconsiously as a way of underplaying our disappointment, and we just assume others would understand what we mean. We obviously do sarcasm as well but that's something different and is obviously intentional.

When I started working overseas, it took me some time to realise that my direct reports were quite understandably getting rather confused by the messages I was sending out. How were they to know that if I said their work was not bad, that meant I was rather impressed by what they had achieved Confused ... Anyway, they got used to my foibles and I learnt to be a bit more direct with my speech. But even after all this time, it's still something that I have to be aware of when I do travel.


Quote:
P.S. Aside for the comedic sex bit you mentioned, CD, I found the Brits more open and natural(?) about the place of sex in life, especially regarding quickies , than by more prudish Americans.


I think I remember reading somewhere that regarding sex, Americans are prudish whereas the English are inhibited. I have to say that the Americans that I've met anyway seem to take sex so very seriously - even casual one nighters are *serious* casual one nighters. We English are just happy enough to break out of our inhibitions long enough for a quick leg-over before we go back to our hot water bottles.


As for manners, how about we say that the English are superficially polite but Americans are nice. Maybe a little too enthusiastic in their niceness at times Wink, but not half bad when you need a pick-me-up. Or one of those out-of-the-world sex marathons that you guys have all the time.
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Eliza



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PostPosted: Fri Mar 09, 2012 10:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

CD wrote:
Well, they do say that we're two countries separated by a common language....


I think that's a very sound saying because... it's true. And even that varies by region, both within the US, and within various areas of Britain--like the north, midlands, southern England, and lowlands vs highlands and islands in Scotland, not to mention all of the others, sometimes by shire or region, with a similar diversity in many states and regions in the US.

And as to dick's comment, tone, facial expression, et al, always plays a part in communication, I agree, but I also maintain it's far more than just those things between these two different countries' different cultures. And, I'm glad for that difference and diversity.

Quote:
I think I remember reading somewhere that regarding sex, Americans are prudish whereas the English are inhibited. I have to say that the Americans that I've met anyway seem to take sex so very seriously - even casual one nighters are *serious* casual one nighters. We English are just happy enough to break out of our inhibitions long enough for a quick leg-over before we go back to our hot water bottles.


Tee hee about the water bottles. But much better said than I did all 'round. "Serious" is a great word in this context because I found Britain just more "at ease" on this topic.

Quote:
As for manners, how about we say that the English are superficially polite but Americans are nice. Maybe a little too enthusiastic in their niceness at times Wink, but not half bad when you need a pick-me-up.


Also well said--superficial vs nice. But there's also English "civility" vs American in-your-face-going-where-one-need-not-go all the time, too. I never thought I would prefer "superficial" but given the times we're in, the accompanying civility is something I long for. I'm just exhausted by all of the shoot-outs at the OK Corral in the US.

Edited to add:
I take back what I said about "superfical vs nice"; with more thought I realized CD was just being civil while I was being an unthinking rude American. There is superficiality and niceness in both countries OBVIOUSLY, with crossovers between the two, for instance with an Southern American "niceness" like "Bless your little heart" which really isn't always well meant, or a superfical British politeness than can result in genuine help whatever the tone.

So if there is indeed British superficality--which I saw as just "what one does"--I also saw plenty if even more British genuine kindness, including folks inviting me to their homes without truly knowing me.

How about "volume" or "intensity" or differing amounts of emotion as differences between the countries, with the US being the higher volume, emotional one, and perhaps the UK knowing when to speak or not, and how.


Last edited by Eliza on Sat Mar 10, 2012 7:52 am; edited 1 time in total
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Nana



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PostPosted: Sat Mar 10, 2012 2:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I always thought Americans were blunt, until I made some Chinese friends. A Chinese friend, a mutual friend, and I re-united for dinner after we'd been in different places for about a year. Our mutual friend mentioned that he was trying to lose some weight. My Chinese friend said, "Yes... I wasn't going to mention it, but when I saw you, I was honestly shocked at how fat you have gotten." She didn't mean anything by it - there's a "don't shoot the messenger" mentality, I think - but boy, did that sound outrageous to an American!
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