Commentary “Thank You Very Much, Syntax Matters!”


The misunderstanding outlined here is typical of the kind of problems related to language usage than can arise abroad even with the best of intentions on the part of both the host families and the students. The specific problem stems from a common Scottish verbal convention that the US-Americans either ignored or never understood. Although it might seem rather insignificant (at least to the students), when such common courtesy is not followed it can have an emotional and cultural impact far beyond what a US-American might expect. From the students' viewpoint, they had indeed been saying “Thank You” and were being polite in ways that they thought appropriate. From the Scottish perspective, not saying “thank you” before qualifying the answer with a “yes” or “no” was considered both rude and blunt.  

No matter where one is going to study, while living abroad one will frequently have the opportunity to accept or decline various kinds of service offers (sometimes literally dozens of times every day). Upon entering a new culture it makes sense to learn what the local conventions are for doing so correctly. Sometimes saying “thank you” is not enough. Not using the right syntax in Scotland and other parts of the U.K. is not, from their perspective, saying “thank you” at all!  Find out before you go what these conventions are, because both you and the local people will be happier when you have that knowledge and act upon it. Needless to say, if the local language where you will be studying is not English, the issues become that much more complex and potential for misunderstanding greatly increases.