Monday, 1 August 2011

cultural yes and cultural no

I have been an English teacher to teenagers and adults, and I know that cultural differences are the hardest things to teach, but among the most necessary.  I certainly wish, for example, that someone had told me when I first went to France that when you go into a shop, even a supermarket, you should loudly Bonjour the whole shop and then bonjour the till person when you go to pay.  If not they dislike you intensely.   Although I suspect that in the west of France things are not quite thus.  I have been asked for suggestions for cultural dos and donts for multinational young students of English, aside from the obvious - if you want two things you do not put two fingers up with the back of your hand facing the other person, and you do not look at or engage in conversation anybody else on the Tube.  Anyway, this is what I came up with.

don't snap your fingers in a restaurant (I think only Russian oligarchs do this actually), don't take out your own food or drink if you are in a pub or a cafe, don't tap anyone on the shoulder or touch them in any way to get their attention (I saw a Brazilian do this, everyone avoided her after that and she never knew why), thank a bus driver, tip a hairdresser and a taxi driver but not a police officer, don't look people directly in the face on public transport, when you have finished your food and/or drink in a pub or cafe or restaurant you should order some more or leave, especially if it is crowded, respect the discretion line in a queue (eastern Europeans and Baltics don't do this), NEVER queue jump - people will not say anything but they will HATE you -  if you are sitting on a bench or somewhere in a public place and someone else sits down you should move along a bit to give them space.  French people don't do this.  In the south of England only kiss your immediate family and very  close friends, and then only on one cheek, in the north don't kiss anyone at all.  If you are a man and you want to impress a woman tap her on the bottom with a rolled-up copy of the Racing Post and call her Princess. 


I only made up one of those recommendations.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Actually, if you queue jump, people are nowadays likely to absue you verbally - if not physically.

I regularly saw people unpacking sandwiches in the House of Commons Terrace Cafeteria - and people did not like it at all, but felt scared to speak out.

Anonymous said...

what is the discretion line in a queue? Have I missed something all these years?

Jane Griffiths said...

you clearly have, anon 1005 -it is the line painted on the floor a little way back from the desk or counter in ticket offices, banks, post offices and such places, behind which you are supposed to wait, rather than butting up against the shoulder blades of the person being attended to at the desk. This might explain why people are not nice to you in such places.

Anonymous said...

..oh that. Of course I respect that, I just didnt know it was called a discretion line. Discretion seems to imply you have some choice in the matter. As in "you can queue here if you like, or you can go over there and be served straight away"

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 10:32 Think about it for a minute. It is the line the next person stands behind to allow he person at the window etc discretion so they can talk freely without being overheard. Its about others not you.

WV: hyped

Anonymous said...

Discretion also implies the use of tact and prudence -- thereby a sense of being considerate to others.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry, I have to disagree. The word discretion means to have choice. I would cut and paste from innumerable dictionaries if I could be bothered. What you are talking about is behaving discretely, ( or discreetly take your pick) which, without looking it up, I would take as having a generally accepted meaning of sensitivity and privacy theses days, although I feel certain that was not its original meaning. Certainly one can perform an indiscretion, but to use discretion in the sense used in this blog would imply a choice, not allowing privacy.

Jane Griffiths said...

Bollocks. Discretion 1. the quality of being discreet. 2. the freedom to decide on a course of action. Discrete, discretely individually separate and distinct (i.e. an entirely different word with a different meaning). Those lines painted on the ground are using the first definition of the word discretion (OED, since you ask). There are many courses, online and in person, available for those who have difficulty with English. I have a good contact who specialises in this and whose rates are very reasonable. Please let me know if you would like to take advantage of some help with remedial English, as lack of command of the language can be a disadvantage in today's demanding job market.

Anonymous said...

Use cut and paste, Anon - and read Chambers. If you can be bothered, that is............

Happy to provide instruction myself -- been doing it for 33 years - underpaid of course.

Anonymous said...

You see Jane, that is where you have always had a problem. I would still argue that the use of "discretion" in this context usually means choice. (Discretion is the better part of valour, anyybody?) However, at no time have I been unpleasant or patronising. But you seem to be incapable of engaging in this sort of debate without resorting to rather childish abuse.
I have friends who run courses on basic social skills. Very reasonable rates also.

Anonymous said...

In fact I have jsut googled the use of "discretion line", and out of all the gazillion possible permutations only one use such as yours comes up. And that is from this blog. So you can at least console yourself that you have pioneered a new use of the term.

I have some friends who run courses on the use of Google. Very reasonable rates.

Anonymous said...

In fact, a little bit more internet research reveals that what you are referring to is actually known as a "multiple-server queue" in the trade. There is something called a "discrete-time queue" but this is one where people have been allocated (you've guessed it) a discrete, as in separate, time. A la parent's evenings.

Jane Griffiths said...

Oooh, is this a debate? What larks! Round the back of the bike sheds, Discretion versus - what was it again?

Black Widow said...

Not a debate, Jane, no -- sadly.

Just a load of stupid wankers, who are now attempting to 'control' pesky and uppity women by use of language.
Dearie me - I forgot! Only BOYS can do big things like write - the role of the girlie is to sit on a tuffet.

They should pull the other one because it has cats, rats and dogs on it. When they have learned to master Dick and Dora, that is........
Oh and as for tuffets - I have always enjoyed rubbing faces in curds and whey.

Anonymous said...

How peculiar. I can assure you I am female, and there is only one of me.

Jane Griffiths said...

anon 0856 is this also you?

You see Jane, that is where you have always had a problem. [do we know each other? If so who are you? Have you discussed my problem with me before?] I would still argue that the use of "discretion" in this context usually means choice. [No, it never does in this context. Not ever. Get over it and move on.]

Anonymous said...

How interesting that this seemingly innocuous post has produced such high passions - and the feeling that entire ways of life are being threatened.

'Your problem' etc, plus the patronising use of 'Jane' with its condescending over familiarity.
What is does show, is that some people feel extremely frightened by language. Facts and physics are, of course, much safer.
And how amazing that the reaction to Emma B has been so immediate and angrily dismissive! Of course, fiction is also extremely threatening because it presents different and sometimes uncomfortable and challenging ways of looking at the world.It shows, for example, that the 'norm' is rarely the norm. Which is a very uncomfortable truth. I am sure that Emma B will feel really spurred on to continue! If what is beins written is causing such distress and such determination from some quarters to rubbish it - then - excellent. A result!!