Monday, March 16, 2009

buon giorno signore, come sta?

Good day, sir, how are you?

Excuse me, Would you please direct me to the library?

May I please have another cup of coffee?

Pardon me miss, how far is it from here to the station?


When a person is learning a foreign language, or a few helpful phrases before going on vacation to a foreign country, they generally learn sentences like the ones listed above. Polite phrases. If you are a stranger in a strange land and are not a master of the native tongue the least you can do is give it a try in the most polite way possible. But is it just traveler's Italian, French, Spanish, etc. that urges politesse? These conversational preambles also exist in English. Or should I say, "American." So why don't we use them anymore?

Buenos dias.

Donde esta Susana?

Esta en la cocina?


I can't tell you the number of times that folks have come up to me while I am on the phone, or in conversation with someone else, and just launched into whatever is on their mind or about something they want, blah, blah, whatever.

Que voulez-vous?

Laissez-moi tranquille.


Is everyone in such a hurry? I thought we were south of the Mason-Dixon line in D.C. Take a breath and wait your turn. I wonder if I would have noticed this conversational erosion as much if I didn't have a five-year-old who does the same thing. But I can say to her that she needs to slow down and wait until it's her turn and Mommy is done talking. What do I say to the grown-ups?

Mi scusi.

Mi potrebbe dare alcune informazione?

Con molto piacere.


I really want to know when the baby boomers decided that being polite, even civil, was for the birds. My generation has its conversational issues, but even a "Hey dude," while heavy on the Keanu, is an acceptable preamble. Especially when compared to busting in mid-conversation to inanely ask about those TPS reports.

So what's a dude who hungers for a little polite conversation to do? Try to be polite, I guess and hope some bounces back.

Hello there. How are you? Very well, thanks, and you?

How was your weekend? Do you know the way to the dog races?

I think Susanna is in the kitchen.

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