Es tut mir leid, I didn't mean to be rude!

I wrote this blog post in 2011 for another website, which sadly doesn’t exist anymore. The post is still just as relevant today as it was then, so I am posting it here again:

„So you’re German? They are always so rude!“
I’ve heard this comment a few times now and for a long time it has been puzzling me.
It’s not that I haven’t come across any rude Germans. Of course I have – just as I have met rude English, French, Spanish or ….. (insert any language you like) people. However, just as there are nice non German people, there are also nice Germans.
So why do they often come across as rude?

Then it dawned on me: the Germans, who seem rude but aren’t, are English speakers, BUT not fluent.

Let me give you two examples:
1. “The Germans always tell me what to do. They tell me I must do something! Can’t they be a bit more polite?” What they might be saying is ‘Sie müssten ….’ In the meaning of ‘You should …’ but they translate the word müssten directly into must. So they don’t mean to tell you what you must do but actually what the next steps should be – slight difference.
2. “The Germans very rarely say please. Can’t they be more polite?” The Germans have a word for please and it’s bitte but instead of bitte they often also use filler words like ‘mal’. Filler words are sometimes difficult to translate. So a request to somebody to close the window would in German be ‘Könnten Sie mal das Fenster zumachen?’ The use of könnten and mal translate this sentence into ‘Could you please close the window?’ a German who isn’t fluent in English, however, might just say ‘Can you close the window?’ Sounds quite rude, doesn’t it?
Even after all these years in England it sometimes happens to me that I say ‘could you do this or that?’ without the please because in German I wouldn’t need the word bitte.
I’ve had my wrist slapped because of it but I can take it 😉
So, please (I can say it, really!), next time you think a German, or any other national, seems rude to you, just remember they may not be fluent in English and are just trying to translate something as best as they can.

Have you noticed sentences that have been translated literally and therefore make them sound rude?

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