How to ask for a pencil and not be considered rude: why our people are not understood in the USA
Ask for a pen or pencil - what could be easier! We taught this at school: “Give me a pen (a pencil) please” (Give me a pen (a pencil) please).
Using the example of this simple phrase, I want to show how sometimes academic differs from real. The correct proposal for our educational institutions may sound quite rude to Americans, so they try not to apply it in everyday life.
Firstly, “give me” sounds like an order, and even the word “please” does not make up for the rudeness of this phrase. In the US, a sentence is usually built like this: "Could you give me a pen?" and be sure to insert “please” (Could you give me a pen please?).
However, if you are not a decrepit old man who needs help, and not a client in a restaurant who turns to the waiter (and who then will thank the waiter for his requests with generous tips), then in the States it is preferable not to strain others, but to do the right thing yourself.
Therefore, the question is built immediately not from the position “give it to me”, but from the position “I will do it myself”. Our question with a pencil, most likely in America will sound like this: "Can I take this pencil?" (May I take this pencil please?)
And now, it seems like, everything is already beautiful, but there are several more pitfalls.
The word “take” for America means “to take forever” or “to take for itself forever”. In other words, "May i take this pencil?" means for Americans "Can I take this pencil for myself?"
In Russian, in everyday speech, we also ask for a pencil or pen and use the word “take”, but by default we mean that later we will have to return it. In a literal sense, we are asking not to “take forever,” but rather “take and use”. For this, the Americans use a special word that accurately reflects your intentions - "borrow". This word reflects the fact that you do not want to take this item for yourself, but simply borrow it for a while, like a book in a library or a tuxedo at a rental office.
Therefore, in order for the teacher to allow a pencil to be taken from his desk without fear for his property, it is better to ask about it like this: “May i borrow a pencil please?”. It will be a perfectly structured proposal.
And one more thing ... Americans love smiling people, but they are wary of serious and stupid people. If you are not confident in your English and are afraid to make a mistake, turn to the Americans, simply smiling with your most charming smile, and speak as you know and know how, even with mistakes.
And after the speech, you can add (all with the same smile): “Sorry, my English is not very good”.
Believe me, they will immediately understand and help you. A smile really works wonders.
The original column is published on the website. Yandex Zen.
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