A Spanish friend recently sent me the link to an article published online. This “guide” explains to the rest of Europe what British people really mean when they say certain things, and what others understand by what has been said.
For example, according to this article, when a British person says “You must come to dinner”, the real meaning is “It’s not an invitation, I’m just being polite”, whilst the listener will think “I will get an invitation soon”. Obviously, this is an extreme generalisation, but I have to admit, it does ring some bells. If you accidentally bump into someone and they say “we must do lunch” or “we must get a coffee one day”, chances are you won’t set eyes on them again until you accidentally bump into them again…
Obviously this does not mean that all British people are the same, and this could potentially give the impression that we are an insincere nationality. I disagree with this, I think we generally are trying to be so polite that sometimes the message we give differs from what we actually mean. Another example given in the guide is “Could we consider some other options”, meaning “I don’t like your idea”, and taken to mean “They have not yet decided”. Whilst attempting to not insult the other party, by suggesting considering other options rather than directly attacking their idea, we give the impression that we are still as yet undecided or have not formed an opinion, which may not quite be the case.
This “translation guide” raises the point that it is not just the language itself that can create a barrier between speakers of different tongues. Whilst somebody may understand perfectly well what has been said in English, if they are unaware the depth to which we can be courteous, they can take a completely different meaning from a sentence to the one that was intended by the speaker.
How do British people learn these nuances? Do children receive explanations? Do we learn from our mistakes? Furthermore, does this trait cause problems in an international business environment? Are thoughts, ideas and proposals misconstrued through miscommunication? Are other nationalities perceived to be blunt by British people? Are British people seen to be overly polite, or insincere? Or is it an endearing trait? Answers on a postcard to the UK please!