michiexile: (Default)
michiexile ([personal profile] michiexile) wrote2011-11-06 08:29 pm

On politeness markers

It struck me recently, while crossing the atlantic in an Air France plane and thus trying to keep my conversations with the flight staff to french in order to stretch out my language muscles, how differently we perceive politeness in different cultures and languages.

In particular, in Swedish, we do not have a word filling the same function as «please» or «bitte» or even as «s'il vous plait»; while the french comes closest to the Swedish situation, we simply do not have a single always usable set phrase — politeness is marked in Swedish by circumlocution, by using a more convoluted phrase that includes some of several markers for politeness.

Thus, in Swedish, I might say things like
«Skulle du kunna vara så vänlig och » (would you be so kind and )
«Kan jag be att få » (could I ask to receive )
«Jag skulle vilja ha » (I would like to have )
and so on...

This came up, in particular, when I called for the hostesses to ask for more to drink: I am comfortable saying things like «Une coke, s'il vous plait.» when they ask me for my order, but when I myself have summoned them, it feels somehow insufficiently polite, almost like barking out an order, to my Swedish ears. In German, my language skills are sufficient that I can _both_ circumlocute in the subjunctive tense _and_ use «bitte», but my French simply isn't quite as solid.

Dear readers, how do you perceive politeness markers? Do you notice them at all?