I’ve always prided myself on being honest and saying what’s on my mind. Not necessarily framed in a hurtful or undiplomatic manner, but one that leaves no room for misunderstanding. After all, people, especially customers, need to know what you’re thinking. They also need to be advised what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.

It turns out, of course, that the Brits have long been guilty of not exactly saying what they mean, as the table here will testify. I’m indebted to James Trezona of Rooster Punk for drawing my attention to this table, though the version I’ve shown is borrowed from here. In this sense it would seem that the Brits are similar to other peoples, like the Japanese for example, in eschewing direct feedback.

Anglo-EU Translation Guide

Anglo-EU Translation Guide


I do think, though, that this British habit of hiding behind the nuances of the mother tongue is gradually dying out. You could put this down to a bunch of mega trends I guess: globalisation, American cultural influences, the erosion of the British class system, our increasing inclination not to waste precious free time, to name but a few.

If it’s not dying out, then it’s certainly lessening from a bracing wind to a gentle breeze.

Or maybe something else is at work here? Maybe we’re not very good at delivering bad news. Maybe we’re too willing to soften the blow for our audience and ourselves. Either way, I think we’re getting better at that too.

There is, however, still sufficient truth in the table, and sufficient difference between what Brits say and what they mean – and differences between two situations is of course the root of humour – for it to be seriously funny.