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In Korea, when I say "please", others think that I am servile. In English, do I look servile when I use "please" in conversation? I want to know the intensity of the word "please" in servility.

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Marx brothers:"Please call me a taxi". "You're a taxi." –  Russell McMahon Oct 10 '12 at 0:29
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I have been trying for 25 years to convince my (Korean-born) wife that in English, "please" is routine courtesy. If Warren Buffet were to ask a 16-year-old illegal-immigrant busboy for a clean fork, he would say "please". Anything else would be déclassé. –  Malvolio Oct 10 '12 at 0:34
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This is extremely silly. Vooting for this question is now +3/-3. That's 3 people who do not (seem to) understand that this is an extremely legitimate question. Read my answer and then REMOVE YOUR DOWNVOTES*, please :-). *-Yes - that was purposeful as an illustration of please not-at-work. –  Russell McMahon Oct 10 '12 at 4:59
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Voting to close as off-topic. The essence of the question is cultural, not language, least related to the English language. @RussellMcMahon I truly appreciate your effort in the detailed answer. However, you missed the main point. All the same, up voting you. –  Kris Oct 10 '12 at 6:25
    
Okay, there is sometimes a fine line between what is "English usage" and what is "etiquette". I vote we err on the side of answering a question rather than telling somebody to get lost when it's debatable. –  Jay Oct 10 '12 at 19:57
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closed as not constructive by TimLymington, FumbleFingers, MετάEd, RegDwigнt Oct 19 '12 at 9:40

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3 Answers

(1) A note to the downvoters, which will hopefully also be of use to 박용현

Korean I know not, BUT:

Japanese - " Sumi masen" Literally = "It is a terrible thing"
Historically = I am embarrassed to feel compelled to lower myself in your esteem by having to admit I need your assistance.
Now = "Excuse me" or perhaps "Please."
In the case below = "Hey You !!!!!!" [loud & rude]

  • I have sat at a table in a cafe in Tokyo with a young Japanese man while he loudly attempted to gain the waitresss attention with his strong and loud "sumi masen"s.
    He, at least, had lost his bondage to past cultural embarrassments.

(2) No, the word please is commonly used in many English speaking countries, often almost without thought. It is polite to use it and in fact may indicates rudeness NOT to use it.

The use of "please is so ingrained" in much of English speaking society that children are corrected almost as a standard joke if it is omitted. "Pass the butter". 'What do you say ?' "Pleeeeeeeease". Passes butter . This may be parent to child but may even be done among children. Here, NOT using please is often noted as rudeness while including it goes unnoticed.

Manager to secretary: "Please arrange a taxi to Brownson's at 10:30 am" The please is unnoticed.

"Arrange a taxi to Brownsons at 10:30am" May be said, depends on familiarity. Maybe OK to secretary who works with you. Not OK to eg desk staff at hotel (even if you feel that they are below your social level")

Even adding qualifiers such as "Would you..." to increase the politeness level is not seen as at all servile among approximate equals and omission may be seen as rudeness from a social or business "higher level" person.

"Would you please arrange a taxi ..." To hotel desk staff. Polite. NOT at all servile. Expected behaviour and unremarked.


In informal situations (family or friends) please may be omitted but its inclusion is not servile and not usually noticed.

"Pass the butter"
Family at table - OK - but Father may say "Say please".

To a stranger in a cafe when there is butter on the next table and not yours. "Pass the butter to me (!)" Expect to be ignored, grinned at with no reponse, punched or just throught very rude. Entirely reasonable: "Excuse me, would you mind passing me that butter dish". Not seen as servile. Does not detract from standing. Does not imply you are less equal.


Standard by-the-book request from Airline Captain to "1st officer when mountain suddenly looms out of fog and he wants maximum emergency power:

"Go around power, Please".
This may perhaps be shouted :-) - but probably not.


Note: I am an"antipodean". I live in New Zealand. We speak the Queen's English - albeit with an accent according to 'the Brits'. Our usage may vary somewhat but I believe the above is liable to be a good enough guide in most cases. You will get into more trouble by omitting please than by over-using it.

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Yeah, you guys down there do have a distinctive accent. Different (from/to} the Australians and different from the Brits. –  user21497 Oct 10 '12 at 1:28
    
@BillFranke - The English [tm] are genertally not pleased to know th we represent the natural path of evolution of spoken English and that in due choice the Motherlanders will speak as we do. More or less. Apparently true, or said to be true by people who may know. Or may not :-). –  Russell McMahon Oct 10 '12 at 4:57
    
I don't know, but what I've read says that the "natural path of evolution of spoken English" is England=>USA=>England. But none of my BrE-speaker friends have completely lost their accents; they've been somewhat muted by living and working for years and decades in places like Japan and Taiwan, though. Same's true for heavily accented AmE speakers, especially southerners. –  user21497 Oct 10 '12 at 5:14
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We are digressing off the English language focus. We don't discuss world's cultures on ELU, do we? –  Kris Oct 10 '12 at 6:26
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As @Kris has hinted at, half of this post is off-topic or could live in a comment at best — and the formatting of the rest leaves a lot to be desired. You are welcome to fix it yourself if you wish, or ignore the invitation if you don't, just be aware that eventually this has to, and will be, edited into shape rather heavily and mercilessly. Thank you. –  RegDwigнt Oct 10 '12 at 19:54
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In English, please can be used to be polite, as in "Please pass the salt", or sarcastic and to express both disbelief and impatience, as in "Oh, please!" (which might mean, Don't lie to me!, I don't want to hear this story again!, You're being disgusting!). It all depends on your tone of voice and the context in which please appears.

I understand what you mean about using the word in Korean, because in Taiwan, in Chinese, no one says, for example, I would like to have a bowl of shrimp fried rice, please. They say simply, I want shrimp fried rice or just Shrimp fried rice when asked by a worker at an outdoor food stall or in a restaurant what they want to eat. But that doesn't mean that Taiwanese are impolite, just that saying please in certain circumstances isn't the norm.

When I returned to the US after a few years in Japan, I used please and thank you much more often than typical American speakers do, so I got all kinds of comments about how "polite" I was. Maybe Koreans generally feel that shows servility, but I don't think Americans do; however, they do seem to find an excess of politesse unusual and maybe a bit tiresome.

In general, I'd say that it's usually fine to say please when you're asking for things. People who never say please and thank you are considered rude and crude. Just don't overdo it.

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As a native British English speaker in "Middle Class" Britain I personally use please less than my peers and do get commented on it — I use the "Would you..." syntax as described by Russell McMahon more than most. With the right intonation I can avoid being rude but I should use "Would you please...".

With a more aggressive form of speech becoming popular in parts of England, associated with the "chav" culture, usage of please shows your desire to be considered higher class than this culture but it's still the norm in the majority of places. Definitely to be used in any non-social environment like at work, when shopping or when hiring a service.

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Saying "Would you get that box for me?" is pretty much equivalent in politeness level to "Please get that box for me". I'm sure there are other alternatives. But it is indeed conventional in English to put some sort of "polite qualifier" on almost any request. To not do so is considered rude or very assertive, and should only be done when you want to make a point. –  Jay Oct 10 '12 at 19:55
    
I agree, however "Can you make me a sandwich?" is not as polite as "Please make me a sandwich" since it is a command rather than a request. –  PCurd Oct 11 '12 at 9:36
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