Wednesday, July 28, 2010

American English: The Most Polite Language on Earth

by Madeleine Kando

One advantage of being multi-lingual is that you can compare the colloquialisms of one language with another. In ‘the old country’ American English still has the image of being a pragmatic, somewhat ‘rough around the edges’ kind of language. Nothing like its more sophisticated cousin British English.

Americans use their language in a direct, no-nonsense, no-frills kind of way. So I am totally blown away by the myriad ways one can say: ‘You are welcome’ in this country.

In America, the way you respond to a ‘thank you’ depends on how generous you are as a ‘giver’ of a favor. It seems to run on a scale from taking pleasure in doing something for someone (my pleasure), all the way up to making them know in no uncertain terms that they are in your debt (you bet).

So here are a few ways of saying ‘you are welcome’ on the indebtedness spectrum:

If you are a true giver of favors by nature you would say: ‘you are welcome’, ‘no problem’, ‘don’t mention it’, ‘it’s no trouble’, ‘it’s nothing’, ‘not at all’, ‘no biggy’, ‘my pleasure’ or ‘any time’.

Then, if you feel that having done a favor to someone has been somewhat of an effort on your part, you could say: ‘sure’, ‘all right’, ‘certainly’, ‘ok’, ‘forget it’, ‘fair enough’ or ‘that’s ok’.

Sometimes, the person who has received the favor can feel so indebted that they say: ‘Much obliged’, (which means you are obliged to do something in return in the future.)

‘You bet’ really sounds innocent (when the waiter has brought you your meal and you say ‘thanks’, and he says ‘you bet’.) But doesn’t it really mean: ‘you bet your sweet bottom that I did you a favor by bringing you your meal?’

And what about ‘you got it’? What did you get, exactly? As if someone could take the favor back, so they make sure you ‘got it’?

At the more neutral range of the scale there is the: ‘Uh huh’ or ‘yep’. There, I am not sure if it means that the person who did you a favor thinks it wasn’t a big deal or whether they confirm your indebtedness to them by not even acknowledging your ‘thank you’.

In French the only way I know how to say ‘you are welcome’ is: ‘de rien’ (it’s nothing), ‘pas de quoi’ (short for ‘il n’y a pas de quoi’, i.e., it’s not enough to be worthy of a thank you) and ‘je vous en prie’ (I beg you?!).

Only three measly synonyms in a language that is supposed to be culturally far superior to American English? Ha! leave comment here