Being friendly in English

Having good social skills is important if you want to make a good impression on the people you meet. Here’s some advice on what is considered polite or impolite in English-speaking cultures.

1. Please, thank you, excuse me and I’m sorry

These polite expressions are used a lot in spoken English, and not using them can make you appear rude. As politeness is considered perhaps the most important quality in relationships, make sure you use them! Don’t worry if you think you use them too frequently: the worst that people will think of you is that you are sweet and charming:))

Please = use whenever you want someone to do something for you, or if you want something from another person

Can you tell me where the post office is, please?
Can you pass me that newspaper please?

Never use imperative forms unless you are giving someone directions. So although you can say to someone “Take the 130 bus to Croydon and get off at Asda supermarket”, you can’t say to someone “Pass me that newspaper”.

Thank you = use whenever someone does something for you, or gives you something.

Excuse me = use when you want to introduce a request to someone, or if you want to get past someone

Excuse me, can you tell me where the post office is, please?
Excuse me, is this the right platform for the London train?

I’m sorry = use any time that you inconvenience someone, tread on someone’s toes in a crowded train, or if someone asks you something that you can’t do.

I’m sorry, but I don’t understand. Is the post office on the left or the right?

Is Mr Jones in the office?
I’m sorry, he’s out this morning.

2. Ask permission before doing something that may inconvenience others

Do you mind if I open the window?
Can I take this chair?

3. Avoid controversial topics when you meet someone new

Some topics of conversation can lead to arguments, so unless you know someone well, it’s best to avoid them. These topics are politics, religion and financial information such as how much money you earn. If you are in doubt about what to talk about, let the other person take the lead, and respond to them. This leads on to the next point:

4. Keep the conversation going

If someone asks you a question, respond to it. Avoid one-word answers, and try to say at least a few words. Then you can return the question.

For example, if someone says “Terrible weather, isn’t it”, avoid just saying “yes”. Instead you can say “Yes, I wish it would stop raining” or “Yes, it wasn’t like this last summer, was it?”

Some cultural tips

– in Britain, queuing is considered polite. If you “jump the queue” (go to the front, rather than stand behind the last person in the queue) or push the people in front of you, you will make yourself very unpopular!

– don’t stand too close to people. Stand at least an arm’s length away if you can. On crowded public transport this isn’t possible, but people rarely talk to each other in these situations.

– keep eye contact when you talk