British vs. American English: Please

Post_it_note_-_pleaseAmericans say “please” – just not always where the British expect to hear it, especially when they are ordering food in restaurants.

The British say please when ordering food in restaurants or requesting things in shops because they view the action as a personal request to the waiter. Americans regard this as providing the waiter with the information he needs to do his job, so they say  “I’ll have the chicken” while the British say “I’ll have the chicken, please.

Why don’t Americans say “please”? Are they rude people? How can it be that Americans think of themselves as polite when they fail to extend this common courtesy word?

Here’s the deal:

Saying “please” can add connotations of impatience and exasperation to an American request.

You can watch this video from Sesame Street. It teaches children lessons about politeness. In this video, you’ll notice Mr. Johnson order food without saying “please” to Grover, the waiter. Mr. Johnson here say I’d like a bowl of hot alphabet soup” (without “please”, but with a bit of politeness marking by adding “would” inI’d like”).

So, even though the Americans don’t say “please” when ordering food, that doesn’t mean they are being rude. It’s just a cultural thing. Saying “please” can make a request sound urgent, blunt, and even rude.


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