Brits in particular but also other native English speakers like to be as polite as possible, whereas Finns tend to say things far more directly.
Whether it’s an email or communicating on the phone or face to face, Finns handle situations by getting right down to business. Even if this kind of communication is ordinary in Finland, it may sound rude to an English speaker. So if you want to avoid blunt expressions and aim for fluent English, start using these tips for polite English!
Have you ever paid attention to the use of please in English? Please is an important word that you should keep in mind in both face-to-face interaction and written communications, and forgetting it is actually somewhat rude.
Over and over again, I’ve heard Finns ordering a pint at the pub with the clunky phrase “I take a beer”, when the native way to politely express it would be “Could I have a beer, please?”. In Finland, it’s business as usual in a café to say ”Ottaisin yhden kahvin.” (I’d have a coffee), whereas for an English speaker, the appropriate phrase would be “Could I have a coffee, please?”.
In Finnish, using the word kiitos (thank you) is common, but there is no direct equivalent for the word please, which means the same level of politeness is expressed with the Finnish grammatical conditional -isi-. This is why Finns often think it is sufficiently polite to use the word could or would, but if it is a request and not a question, it definitely also requires a please. Saying “Could you pass me the salt?” and “Could you pass me the salt, please?” are entirely different matters.Adding please shows your appreciation.
It’s good to keep in mind that the word order is also significant. You can add the word please to either the start or the end of the phrase, depending on if you intend to say it more as a request or as a demand. At the end of a phrase, the meaning is very similar to the word kiitos in Finnish. If it is at the beginning of a phrase, it lends more weight to the word. The phrase “please behave” instantly has a more demanding, commanding tone.
Sorry and excuse me
In English, apologetic words are thrown around fairly casually. In Finnish, apologies are only made when they are genuinely meant. In English, the words sorry, excuse me, pardon and apologies are used constantly in everyday language. Sorry and I’m sorry are a good fit in almost any situation, whether it’s bumping into someone in a crowded bus or a genuine, heartfelt apology. When you can’t hear the other person, the correct phrase is “Sorry, I didn’t catch that” or “Pardon?”.
The expression excuse me is used when you want to interrupt or catch someone’s attention. It’s also used to express that you are leaving the scene. The phrase is used, for example, in the following phrases: ”Excuse me, could you tell me where I might find Mr Smith?”, “Excuse me, may I ask your name again?” or “Excuse me, I need to take this phone call.”.
However, you have to be on your toes with excuse me, because with the wrong tone of voice, it can express sarcasm or even be aggressive. ”Excuse me, but I wasn’t born yesterday!”
The phrase my apologies is used in more official connections, such as in written communications when expressing regret or turning down an invitation, such as in ”My apologies for this oversight on our part.”.
Ole hyvä is not please
Whereas Finnish has the one and only ole hyvä, English has dozens of equivalents for it, depending on the use. If someone says thank you, you usually respond by saying you’re welcome but also phrases like my pleasure and not a bit are equally suitable, along with many other similar phrases.
Sometimes you can hear Finns erroneously saying please when giving someone something. English has its own phrases for this situation: here you are or there you go. When you want to give someone space or indicate that it’s their turn to speak, you can use, for example, the phrases be my guest or the floor is yours.
In written communications, it’s important to pay attention to how you formulate your message. The Finnish style is to say everything fairly bluntly. When giving feedback in Finnish, you can easily say something that corresponds to “We would like a longer term of payment” or even “We want the term of payment to be 30 days.” In English, you should always soften the message and say, for instance, ”Could you please consider amending the payment terms to 30 days?”
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