Please and Thank You

Children Playing - Drive Carefully

I always thought Norwegians were perfectly polite – we may not use our please and thank yous all the time, but that doesn’t mean that we are rude, does it? I never understood why people would think that Norwegians are rude, until I moved away from Norway!

I think we Norwegians like to think of ourselves as straight forward, calling a spade a spade kind of people, and that just because we don’t say please all the time does not mean we are rude. It just means we save time, we are very efficient people…

Learning English in school (from the age of 9 when I was in school), we were always told that it was very important to say please and thank you, but I don’t think I ever understood how many times you are supposed to say it until I actually lived there. But they really do, and in the beginning I had to think about it, but then it just becomes part of you. But even though they all say please and thank you all the time, I don’t think the British necessarily are that much nicer than the rest of us! I have still been pushed on buses, just like I do in Norway. I have had people jump ahead of me in a que, just like in Norway. It is just that in Norway people don’t normally say “excuse me” or “sorry” at the same time as they use their elbow to get passed you!

My husband was shocked when we were out driving one day (in the south of England) and stopped to ask for directions. I rolled down the window and asked the lady “Do you know where X is?” – Which in Norway would be a very normal thing to say. Apparently what I should have said though was “Excuse me please, would you be able to help? Could you possible tell me how I can find X?” What a waste of words (and time) I say, but this is apparently what is expected, and when in Rome… 🙂

Even the signposts in the UK are more polite than their Norwegian equivalent: “Please Drive Carefully”, would in Norwegian be “Kjør forsiktig” – without the please!

So I got used to the way it was done over there (in the UK), and now that we live in Norway again, I must say I find it a little bit difficult to continue saying that Norwegians are not rude…

My husband, who can be very English, is trying to learn Norwegian. At a pub I told him to say “En øl, takk” – “One beer, please” (he insisted he had to say please!) . And he went to the bar, placed his order (or did he ask for two beers, oh well, doesn’t matter), anyway, the barman didn’t understand him, and this happened time and time again, and he would always en up placing his order in English. Then one night he decided to just say “en øl” – “one beer”, and what do you know – the barman understood him! And ever since, my husband never tries to say “please” or “thank you” in Norwegian as it just seems to highlight the fact that he is not Norwegian, and nobody seems to understand him anyway!

So… when the UK – do say Please and Thank You… when in Norway… I wouldn’t bother!  (But that doesn’t mean that you can’t say what you have to say with a smile! 🙂 )

– Photo credit to Asta Burrows –


11 Comments to “Please and Thank You”

  1. Interesting post, Asta. We’re very big on manners – probably as a side effect of our English heritage, and I would probably think the “Do you know…” question was a bit abrupt rather than rude. I quite agree that often the words don’t match the behaviour – as in being elbowed on the bus. I’d rather have the polite body language in the end, I think. 🙂

    • Hi Kloppenmum, thank you for your comment! I do hope it was abrupt and not rude – I don’t like the thought of people thinking that I am rude as I do try not to be – but living in England I quickly learned to use the right words at the right time 🙂

  2. In the end, Asta, I think it’s all a matter of who you’re talking to, and whether or not those people tolerate cultural differences. I think people who travel widely and are eager to interact with the local people are generally more tolerant. But there are people in every country who just don’t want to take the time to understand what makes other people work. Great post, by the way – I love your insights into your two cultures.

  3. Love this, Asta! I know *exactly* what you mean from having been in the middle east and the states and then the coasts and the midwest. Your advice rings true: When in Rome!! Great post! 🙂

  4. Hi Galit, thanks for you comment – it is great to experience different cultures isn’t it! But sometimes I find it is easier to understand cultures that are totally different as you know you have to make an effort, but when they are similar but with subtle differences I find them a challenge 🙂 Is there a great difference between the two coasts and the midwest in the US? Asta

  5. Asta,
    Thank you for an enjoyable mini-vacation. I live in Miami where we are constantly exposed to over 75 languages in our schools and over 100 in our streets. I’m so used to my brain blocking out conversations of all those people whose languages I don’t understand and concentrating only on the 1 or 2 English or Spanish conversations nearest me that when I went back to my Kansas hometown, I got a headache every time I went shopping. My brain could no longer handle filtering out ALL the conversations in English! What a revelation that was! I enjoy your posts. Thanks for being YOU!

    • Hi Michele! Wow – that’s a lot of languages, I guess you just have to learn to filter it all out. I guess we all get used to the situation we are in, and then when we are suddenly placed in a new situation, such as Kansas, your brain is likely to get confused again 🙂
      Thank you for taking the time to comment!

  6. I always say “please” and “thank you” here in Norway! Even if nobody else does. So does my husband. I’m an ambassador for my country when I’m not in it so for me it is very important.
    I really like your blog! Really good to see your perspective as a Norwegian in England!

    • Good for you! There is really no need to forget your manners just because we are in a country that doesn’t necessarily appreciate them. But do you say “en øl, takk” or “en øl vær så snill”? I am still trying to find the correct level of politeness to teach my husband 🙂
      Thanks for your comments, always god to hear from somebody who understands 🙂 (all though from a different perspective!)

  7. I’m always being told off for being “too direct” because we are not used to say please everytime we ask for something. Now I have made a habit of saying please first: Can I please have that book, or could you please turn the tv down. Rather than saying Can you turn the tv down…

    • I am glad to hear it is not only me! My husband has been here in Norway for a couple of years now, and he has started taking the “please and thank you” out of his sentences… his parents did notice this last time they were over here!! 🙂

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