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What your English teacher never told you - What are you complaining about!?

Settembre 2015
Gli inglesi lo imparano da piccoli: lamentarsi è brutto e va evitato a tutti i costi. Ecco perché quando vogliono davvero protestare per qualsiasi inefficienza, disguido, o cattivo servizio, iniziano... scusandosi. Un’altra peculiarità tipicamente inglese che non troverete nei libri di scuola.

di Rachel Roberts

Rachel Roberts
Rachel Roberts

If you search the web for “phrases for complaining in English,” you will probably get some useful results – idiomatic expressions that British people use all the time. However, if you look closely, you will see that there is something similar about most of the phrases that are taught for making a complaint in English. The similarities are evident  in the words, but very few teachers point them out. They should do, because they underline something fundamental about British people: they find it extremely difficult to make complaints.

I’M TERRIBLY SORRY, BUT...

Like most nations, Brits love moaning about the weather or the government, but they find making an official complaint, to hotel or restaurant staff or even simply giving negative feedback at work very challenging. Take a look at these example phrases: “Sorry, I think you’ve given me the wrong change,”  ‘Sorry to bother you, but I think there’s something wrong with the air-conditioning,” “I’m afraid I have to make a complaint. Some money has gone missing from my room.”  Each expression starts with an apology. One website even suggests the phrase “I hate to tell you this, but there’s no heating in my room.” If you are not British, you are probably asking yourself why anybody who has paid good money for a hotel room would hate complaining about the lack of heating!

FINE, THANKS

In restaurants, shops and similar places, British people find it difficult to complain directly to the staff. They will push unappetizing food to the side of their plate and look disgusted, but when the waiter comes to ask if everything is all right, they will probably smile and say “Yes, fine thanks!” This is why, when they feel they really have to say something, they always start off with an apology.

FACE-SAVING

There is, however, a deeper reason for this reticence: British people are almost oriental in their desire to save face at all costs. They don’t like making other people look stupid or incompetent. When managers have to give an appraisal to colleagues working under them, they will very rarely say: “Your work has been very poor these last months,” or “Your performance has been very bad,” On the contrary, they are much more likely to start with “How do you feel you’ve been performing?” or “Is there anything you’d like to improve?” before gently moving on to suggest ways of doing the work better.
British people are used to this approach from school. Even a poor piece of homework will always be praised for its good aspects (“‘It was a nice idea,” “I see what you wanted to do”) before the mistakes are pointed out.

TOO DIRECT

Foreign students coming to study in the UK are often frustrated when their teachers refuse to give them negative feedback while they really want to know what they are doing wrong. German and Dutch students may have a particular problem with this, as people from these cultures are usually far more direct. Conversely, British people working with Dutch or German colleagues often find their attempts to give useful critical feedback extremely rude.

BODY LANGUAGE

If you are travelling, studying or working in the UK, of course there will be times when you want to make a complaint. You can use any of the example sentences given here, but remember to convey with your body language and the tone of your voice that you really don’t enjoy saying what you have to say. The result will be a much quicker remedy to the problem or improvement  to the service.

GENTLY DOES IT

Similarly, if you need to tell someone that you don’t like what they are doing in a work or study situation, then do so as gently as possible. Dilute your criticism with lots of praise and if possible, try and get your colleague to work out their mistake for themselves. This might seem like a complete waste of time to non-British people, but it’s definitely the best approach if you want to conserve good working relations in the future.


 JUST IN CASE YOU’RE NOT SURE WHAT TO SAY AND WHEN, HERE’S A GUIDE

Situation: Your restaurant meal is terrible
What you say: I’m sorry but I’m not really used to this kind of food

Situation: Your taxi driver is taking a suspiciously long route
What you say: Sorry, but are you quite sure this is the right way?

Situation: Your beer is warm
What you say: I hate to tell you this but this beer is a little bit warm

Situation: The kid behind you is kicking the back of your seat on an aeroplane
What you say:
Say nothing. Turn round and smile repeatedly at the kid and raise your eyebrows at his mother as if to say ‘Isn’t he cheeky?’

Situation: Someone’s listening to loud music through their headphones
What you say: Look at them repeatedly and sigh.

Situation: Your next door neighbour’s TV is really loud at 2 o’clock in the morning
What you say:
I’m really sorry to bother you but I have to get up early tomorrow. Would you mind turning the TV down a bit?

 


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