Now, Where Are Your Manners? – Inspired by @chiasuan and @brad5patterson

Chia Suan Chong (photo by Chia)

Last Sunday a great number of us were very happy to watch a great webinar on a topic which at least, I had never seen or heard presented before. Chia Suan Chong was the educator behind this great presentation, organised by the BESIG team. Visit Chia’s blog, where she writes about many interesting topics and also has great interviews!

Chia is a teacher trainer at International House London and also writes a blog.

Brad Patterson has also written a great post as a follow-up to Chia’s webinar, rich in etymology – What does it mean to be polite?

Here are my thoughts:

Before I moved to the German-speaking part of Switzerland, I had absolutely no knowledge of the German language, apart from Danke and Guten Morgen! Then I started listening to people everywhere: on the buses and trains, in restaurants, anywhere I could listen to the language. In the beginning, my understanding was so minimal, I felt like I was constantly running into a wall. As time went by, I started understanding more and more and even noticing features of the language I had never noticed before. (For those who might not know, there are two types of German spoken in Switzerland – High German or Hochdeutsch, or the German people speak in Germany and Swiss German or Schwiizer Tüütsch, which apart from pronunciation and accent includes completely different words in many cases. For instance, the word for bicycle is Fahrrad in High German, whereas Swiss German has borrowed the French word Velo.)

"Come, come" said the friendly driver and I was wondering about "please" and "thank you"... (Image taken from http://www.zvb.ch)

What impressed me the most when I heard people speaking – mainly in High German, was the use of the imperative, most of the times without moderators like please or if you could… as we have in English and I must say it was a bit strange at first for me. I particularly noticed it when a bus stopped once and getting on it, I dropped my wallet in the street and all its contents spilled onto the street. The bus driver stayed there patiently, doors open and passengers waiting, also patiently, and when I said (in English, I admit!) “That’s ok, I’ll take the next one”, the driver made a welcoming gesture, smiled and said “Komm, komm”.

I then thought, “Come, come?”…..Come?!? Where’s please? or, That’s ok, come, I will wait for you? After that instant, I noticed it many times and I asked my Swiss friend about it. She told me that it can be polite, depending on how you say it of course, the tone of your voice and the gestures you perhaps use, or the word bitte (please) used at the end. At a resaturant, they use the laconic albeit polite Zahlen, bitte (to pay, please word-for-word) when they want to pay the bill. Still polite, without the Excuse me, could you please bring the bill? socially acceptable and politely conditioned sentence in English. The beauty of each language!

I should mention that I encourage my learners (most of them are adults this year) to use words like please or transform the imperative into questions (Could you please…?) or indirect questions (I was wondering if you could….). They usually smile when I remind them and they humorously say, “You English speakers use too many words!” I tell them: “It’s great that in German people use fewer words and are more direct, they save time and get to the point right away!” It is amazing to see what works in each language and is equally acceptable.

Thank you so much for a great webinar and all the food for thought, Chia and Brad for a super post!