Good manners are always good manners. That’s what Miranda Ingram, who is English, thought, until she married Alexander, who is Russian.
When I first met Alexander and he said to me, in Russian, ‘Nalei mnye chai-pour me some tea’, I got angry and answered, ‘Pour it yourself’. Translated into English without ‘Could you….?’and a ‘please’, it sounded really rude to me. But in Russian it was fine-you don’t have to add any polite words.
However, when I took Alexander home to meet my parents in the UK, I had to give him an intensive course in pleases and thank yous(which he thought were completely unnecessary), and to teach him to say sorry even if someone else stepped on his toe, and to smile, smile,smile.
Another thing that Alexander just couldn’t understand was why people said things like, ‘Would you mind passing me the salt, please?’ He said. ‘It’s only the salt for goodness sake!What do you say in English if you want a real favour?’
He also watched in amazement, when, at a dinner party in England, we swallowed some really disgusting food and I said, ‘Mmmm….delicious.’ In Russia people are much more direct.The first time Alexander’s mother came to our house for dinner in Moscow, she told me that my soup needed more flavouring. Afterwards, when we argued about it my husband said, ‘Do you prefer your dinner guests to lie?’
Alexander complained that in England he felt ‘like the village idiot’ because in Russia if you smile all the time people think that you are mad. In fact, this is exactly what my husband’s friends thought of me the first time I went to Russia because I smiled at everyone and translated every ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ from English into Russian!
At home we now have an agreement. If we are speaking Russian, he can say ‘ Pour me some tea’, and just make a noise, like a grunt when I give it to him. But when we’re speaking English, he has to add a ‘please’, a ‘thank you’ and a smile.
(Adopted from New English File Intermediate, Student’s Book)