How did this happen? Can we blame it on the Victorians? Shakespeare? The Puritans?
I have no idea. But one thing is true: from day one we are taught to be polite. To mind our manners. To be nice.
In actual fact, we secretly love honesty. Straight shooters. People who 'tell it like it is'. Why else would English speaking countries have the world's best comedy tradition? Because we really want people to speak the truth.
But there is a catch. You have to tell us the truth the way WE like to hear it. You gotta use OUR code. If you disrespect the code, you sound like a tourist and we blow you off like a bad habit.
Here's the good news: you're Dutch, so being honest should come naturally. This post will give you a few tips for packaging your Dutch honesty in a way that English speaking people can swallow. I'm not gonna give you all my tips today. If you want those (there are 4 more), you'll have to hire me. After all, I am running a business here (just being honest).
Follow these tips and you'll be on your way:
> Use more 'don't' and less 'do not'.
Chances are good that your High School teacher told you this:
"You must only use 'don't' for spoken English. In written English, you must use 'do not'.
It ain't true.
'Don't' and 'do not' are both completely proper and professional English. The only thing you need to know is that 'do not' is stronger. It EMPHASIZES. Remember Bill Clinton back in '96, when he gave that infamous press conference about Monica:
"I DID NOT have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky!"
DID NOT stresses the did not! (Turns out he was lying but that's a story for another time...)
If you use 'did not' and 'I am' and 'you are' and 'I will' instead of 'didn't' or 'I'm' or 'you're' or 'I'll', you'll come on too strong and sound overly academic and stiff. Basically, you'll sound rude. Lots of you do it because you think it's 'better' due to what your teacher taught you. It isn't better or more polite, it's just stronger.
> Be careful with the word 'no'.
When Dutch people say no, they really say no. It sounds like this:
It's like a swift punch in the gut.
Amazingly, we English speakers often say 'no' (in a business setting) without even using the word 'no'. It sounds like this:
"Well I understand your frustration, sir. But I'm afraid there's very little I can do to get you on that plane to London at 9:00. I'm very sorry, but my hands are tied."
The British are particularly genius at that one. Notice the display of understanding ("I understand") and the expression of being quasi fearful of disappointing the customer ("I'm afraid") and the apology ("I'm sorry"). In reality, there is little understanding, no fear, and no sorry going on. It's just our way of saying 'no'.
Keep in mind that this example is for business situations. If you're hanging out with your best friend, feel free to say a simple and direct 'no'.
There's a very fine line between effective directness and just being plain rude. Learn to be honest within our code and you'll navigate that line very well.
ps - if you want your business English to reach the near native level by learning how to be properly honest, call me.
or sign up for my next Beyond Your Own Borders, business English program.